First microscopic description of the ‘glomeruli’

Sabine Karam MD

The Italian anatomist Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694), often referred to as the founder of microscopical anatomy, is credited for the first microscopic description of the glomeruli. He described them as dark, vascular structures resembling fruit suspended from a branch (… quae sanguineis vasis atro liquore turgidis in speciolae arbori formam productis, velut poma appenduntur). He demonstrated their continuity with the renal vasculature in ‘De renibus,’ a section of ‘De Viscerum Structura Exercitatio Anatomica’, originally published in Bologna, Italy, in 1666 and then in London, in 1669(1). In 1782, Alexander Schlumlanski (1758-1795) described ‘de Structura renum’ in his dissertation as a connection between the circulation and the uriniferous tubules, deduced by experimenting on pig kidneys(2). However, it was the surgeon and anatomist William Bowman (1816-1892) who elucidated the capillary architecture of the glomerulus and the continuity between its surrounding capsule and the proximal tubule in detail (see Discovery #3 by Lili Zhou). He presented his findings in the paper "On the Structure and Use of the Malpighian Bodies of the Kidney"(3). Nonetheless, the term glomerulus would come into usage only a few years later in the mid-nineteenth century. It seems to be derived from the Latin word ‘glomus’, which means ‘ball of thread’(4).


  1. M. M. De Viscerum Structura Exercitatio Anatomica. Londini: Typis T.R. Impensis Jo.Martyn;(London). MDCLXIX1669. p. 83–4.
  2. A. S. Dissertatio inauguralis anatomica De Structura Renum MDCCLXXXII. : Argentorati (Strasbourg): Typis Lorenzii & Schuleri;; 1782.
  3. Todd Bentley R BW. The physiological anatomy and physiology of man. West Strand,London:John W Parker and sons. 1859;2:482-507.
  4. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Glomerulus.

Global Operations Center

Avenue des Arts 1-2
1210 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 2 808 04 20
Fax: +32 2 808 4454
Email contact


Americas Operations Center

340 North Avenue 3rd Floor
Cranford, NJ 07016-2496, United States
Tel: +1 567 248 9703
Fax: +1 908 272 7101
Email contact