Description of the nephron

Lili Zhou
Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University

The kidney is the most important organ in the human body to excrete urine and maintain the balance of water and electrolytes. These processes take place through the subtle mechanisms of the nephron, a tiny unit of workforce within the kidney. In 1842, after two years of exploration, Dr. William Bowman, a famous English surgeon and anatomist, discovered the nephron’s true nature. Through repeated injections from the arteries, tubes, and veins in multiple species’ kidneys, he found the real structure of the Malpighian bodies, as well as their connecting tubes and circulation. The Malpighian bodies, called glomerulus today, originate and gradually subdivide from the afferent artery terminal twigs to become two rounded capillary vessels tufts. These vessels ultimately converge to become one efferent channel (smaller in size than the afferent) to enter the capillary plexus surrounding the uriniferous tubes (proximal convoluted tubules, loop of Henle, and distal convoluted tubules). The interconnected capillary plexus surrounding the tubes serves as the portal system in contact with the tubes’ basement membrane to renal veins. The tubes are the extension of Malpighian bodies’ capsules (Bowman’s capsule) and expand tortuously near the Malpighian bodies but straighten when proceeding toward the excretory channel (collecting duct). All these features retard blood flow and delay the excretion of nutrients into urine to maintain the balance of water, sugar, and electrolyte assimilation and excretion. This revolutionary discovery opened a new era in physiological and pathological research in kidneys.


  1. W. Bowman. On the Structure and Use of the Malpighian Bodies of the Kidney, with Observations on the Circulation through That Gland. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Vol. 132 (1842), pp. 57-80.

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