The Kidney: Major Divisions & Structures

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  • 0:05 The Sum of different Parts
  • 1:05 Renal
  • 1:45 Renal Cortex and Renal Medulla
  • 2:37 Renal Pyramid and…
  • 3:07 Renal Pelvis
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Learn about the major layers of the kidneys, like the renal cortex and renal medulla. Find out about the inner parts of the kidneys, including the renal papilla, renal pelvis, renal pyramid, and renal hilum.

The Sum of Different Parts

Cross section of a human kidney
Kidney Cross Section

When you look at a human being, you see this one solid entity. However, if we just stop and think for a second, what we actually see is a combination of parts fitting together to make a whole. In the case of the human body, there are the eyes, ears, and nose; the legs, arms, and hair; and then, not to mention all of the things we can't see inside, like the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

All of these structures combine together to make up a single human being. In a very similar fashion, every single organ in your body looks like one unit, one solid entity. However, if we look really closely, we'll find out that they have many different pieces fitting together to make one functional unit. Let's find out how this works in the context of our kidneys.


Many different parts associated with our kidneys have a sort of nom de plume. Think of our kidneys as writers masquerading as someone else. Our kidneys use the word 'renal' to refer to themselves when 'in disguise.' The reality of the situation is the word 'renal' refers to something that has to do with our kidneys. Hence, the kidneys can try and hide their identity under the word 'renal,' but you'll never be tricked again now that you know this little tidbit of information. It's important you remember this as we move on in our lesson.

Cortex and Medulla

Our kidneys are multilayered structures, kind of like avocados. If you've ever sliced an avocado in half, you'd have a middle layer, the avocado pit, and then a surrounding outer layer that is the edible part of the avocado. Likewise, your kidneys have an outer and an inner layer. The outer portion of the kidney, located in between the renal capsule and the renal medulla, is called the renal cortex. The renal cortex is like the fleshy part of the avocado.

Deeper to the renal cortex, like our avocado pit, is the inner portion of the kidney, called the renal medulla. The renal capsule, if you were wondering, is like the avocado's skin. It's a very thin layer covering the kidney on the outside.

Renal Pyramid and Renal Papilla

The renal papilla is the capstone of the renal pyramids.
Renal Papilla

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