Yosuke Hirakawa
Division of Nephrology and Endocrinology, the University of Tokyo Hospital

In 1862, anatomist Jacob Henle presented the existence of nephron loops, widely known today as the loop of Henle. (1). He provided a morphological description; the importance of electrolyte reabsorption had not yet been determined and the existence of tubular reabsorption was only proved in the 1920s by Alfred Newton Richards. Henle is famous for his description of epithelial tissue: large sheets of cells free from blood vessels, blood components, and nerve endings. Henle described first epithelial tissue in the digestive tract followed by glandular and tubular organs, including the kidney (2). In renal medulla, Henle found two tubular subtypes: one type was a papillary collecting duct with a diameter of 0.05-0.06 mm; the other type had a much smaller diameter of approximately 0.02-0.03 mm, running parallel to the collecting ducts but returning in a narrow hairpin curve toward the surface. The latter is the well-known loop of Henle. As an anatomist, Henle examined other epithelial tissues also: Henle’s gland in the eyelids and Henle’s layer in the hair follicle (3).


  1. Morel F. The loop of Henle, a turning-point in the history of kidney physiology. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 1999;14:2510-5
  2. Kinne-Saffran E, Kinne RK. Jacob Henle: the kidney and beyond. Am J Nephrol. 1994;14:355-60.
  3. Weyers W. Jacob Henle--a pioneer of dermatopathology. Am J Dermatopathol. 2009;31:6-12

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