Reabsorption and Secretion in the PCT


Source: OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

The renal corpuscle filters the blood to create a filtrate that differs from blood mainly in the absence of cells and large proteins. From this point to the ends of the collecting ducts, the filtrate or forming urine is undergoing modification through secretion and reabsorption before true urine is produced. The first point at which the forming urine is modified is in the PCT. Here, some substances are reabsorbed, whereas others are secreted. Note the use of the term “reabsorbed.” All of these substances were “absorbed” in the digestive tract—99 percent of the water and most of the solutes filtered by the nephron must be reabsorbed. Water and substances that are reabsorbed are returned to the circulation by the peritubular and vasa recta capillaries. It is important to understand the difference between the glomerulus and the peritubular and vasa recta capillaries. The glomerulus has a relatively high pressure inside its capillaries and can sustain this by dilating the afferent arteriole while constricting the efferent arteriole. This assures adequate filtration pressure even as the systemic blood pressure varies. Movement of water into the peritubular capillaries and vasa recta will be influenced primarily by osmolarity and concentration gradients. Sodium is actively pumped out of the PCT into the interstitial spaces between cells and diffuses down its concentration gradient into the peritubular capillary. As it does so, water will follow passively to maintain an isotonic fluid environment inside the capillary. This is called obligatory water reabsorption, because water is “obliged” to follow the Na+.

More substances move across the membranes of the PCT than any other portion of the nephron. Many of these substances (amino acids and glucose) use symport mechanisms for transport along with Na+ . Antiport, active transport, diffusion, and facilitated diffusion are additional mechanisms by which substances are moved from one side of a membrane to the other. Recall that cells have two surfaces: apical and basal. The apical surface is the one facing the lumen or open space of a cavity or tube, in this case, the inside of the PCT. The basal surface of the cell faces the connective tissue base to which the cell attaches (basement membrane) or the cell membrane closer to the basement membrane if there is a stratified layer of cells. In the PCT, there is a single layer of simple cuboidal endothelial cells against the basement membrane. The numbers and particular types of pumps and channels vary between the apical and basilar surfaces. A few of the substances that are transported with Na+ (symport mechanism) on the apical membrane include Cl , Ca++, amino acids, glucose, and PO43 − . Sodium is actively exchanged for K+ using ATP on the basal membrane. Most of the substances transported by a symport mechanism on the apical membrane are transported by facilitated diffusion on the basal membrane. At least three ions, K+ , Ca++, and Mg++, diffuse laterally between adjacent cell membranes (transcellular).

About 67 percent of the water, Na+ , and K+ entering the nephron is reabsorbed in the PCT and returned to the circulation. Almost 100 percent of glucose, amino acids, and other organic substances such as vitamins are normally recovered here. Some glucose may appear in the urine if circulating glucose levels are high enough that all the glucose transporters in the PCT are saturated, so that their capacity to move glucose is exceeded (transport maximum, or Tm). In men, the maximum amount of glucose that can be recovered is about 375 mg/min, whereas in women, it is about 300 mg/min. This recovery rate translates to an arterial concentration of about 200 mg/dL. Though an exceptionally high sugar intake might cause sugar to appear briefly in the urine, the appearance of glycosuria usually points to type I or II diabetes mellitus. The transport of glucose from the lumen of the PCT to the interstitial space is similar to the way it is absorbed by the small intestine. Both glucose and Na+ bind simultaneously to the same symport proteins on the apical surface of the cell to be transported in the same direction, toward the interstitial space. Sodium moves down its electrochemical and concentration gradient into the cell and takes glucose with it. Na+ is then actively pumped out of the cell at the basal surface of the cell into the interstitial space. Glucose leaves the cell to enter the interstitial space by facilitated diffusion. The energy to move glucose comes from the Na+ /K+ ATPase that pumps Na+ out of the cell on the basal surface. Fifty percent of Cl– and variable quantities of Ca++ , Mg++, and HPO4 2 − are also recovered in the PCT.

Recovery of bicarbonate (HCO3 – ) is vital to the maintenance of acid–base balance, since it is a very powerful and fast-acting buffer. An important enzyme is used to catalyze this mechanism: carbonic anhydrase (CA). This same enzyme and reaction is used in red blood cells in the transportation of CO2, in the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, and in the pancreas to produce HCO3 – to buffer acidic chyme from the stomach. In the kidney, most of the CA is located within the cell, but a small amount is bound to the brush border of the membrane on the apical surface of the cell. In the lumen of the PCT, HCO3 – combines with hydrogen ions to form carbonic acid (H2CO3). This is enzymatically catalyzed into CO2 and water, which diffuse across the apical membrane into the cell. Water can move osmotically across the lipid bilayer membrane due to the presence of aquaporin water channels. Inside the cell, the reverse reaction occurs to produce bicarbonate ions (HCO3 – ). These bicarbonate ions are cotransported with Na+ across the basal membrane to the interstitial space around the PCT. At the same time this is occurring, a Na+ /H+ antiporter excretes H+ into the lumen, while it recovers Na+ . Note how the hydrogen ion is recycled so that bicarbonate can be recovered. Also, note that a Na+ gradient is created by the Na+ /K+ pump.

The significant recovery of solutes from the PCT lumen to the interstitial space creates an osmotic gradient that promotes water recovery. As noted before, water moves through channels created by the aquaporin proteins. These proteins are found in all cells in varying amounts and help regulate water movement across membranes and through cells by creating a passageway across the hydrophobic lipid bilayer membrane. Changing the number of aquaporin proteins in membranes of the collecting ducts also helps to regulate the osmolarity of the blood. The movement of many positively charged ions also creates an electrochemical gradient. This charge promotes the movement of negative ions toward the interstitial spaces and the movement of positive ions toward the lumen.

Source: OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology


Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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