Cellular basis of an avian countercurrent multiplier system. uri icon


  • A kidney from the budgerigar (budgie, parakeet; Melopsittacus undulatus) is composed of cortical reptilian-type nephrons (without loops of Henle) and mammalian-type nephrons (with loops) grouped together in medullary cones. The loop of the mammalian-type nephrons has a descending segment composed of thin and highly interdigitated cells. These thin limb cells have few mitochondria (15% of cell volume), undetectable Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity, and virtually no basolateral surface amplification. Prior to the hairpin turn, the descending limb thickens, but the cells continue to lack basolateral amplification. Cells just prior to and within the hairpin turn resemble cells of the entire ascending limb. These cells are thick (there is no thin ascending segment in the avian loop), with extensive infoldings of the basolateral membrane surrounding numerous mitochondria (45% of cell volume). The area of basolateral membrane is 25 times that of the apical membrane. The basolateral membrane (but not the apical membrane) is enriched in Na+,K(+)-ATPase activity. The structure of the avian mammalian-type nephron (as epitomized by the budgie nephron) and the fact that NaCl accounts for over 90% of the osmotic activity of avian urine leads to the conclusion that the countercurrent multiplier of the avian kidney functions by active NaCl transport from the entire ascending limb. No explanation is offered for the transport specializations found in the thick descending segment of the loop, just prior to the hairpin turn.

publication date

  • October 1990