Structure-function correlation in the glomerulus

Lili Zhou
Division of Nephrology, Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University, China

Glomerular capillary tufts are responsible for filtration. However, the structure and function of the different cell types within the glomerular capillary tufts were not well described until 1987. Described endothelial cells (ECs), as highly attenuated and fenestrated cells, could not be demonstrated to modulate blood flow. In 1987, Dr. Kriz Wilhelm discovered that mesangial cells (MCs) are important components that influence filtration dynamics. Filled with microtubules and intermediate filaments, these stellate-like MCs could contract and easily regulate the area size of mesangium. They also protrude tongue-like cell processes that extend to the mesangial angle (i.e. the sites where glomerular basement membrane (GBM) deviates from its pericapillary course and covers the mesangium). These processes can change the width of the GBM channel to permit the constriction and relaxation of capillaries and then modulate the intraglomerular blood flow and filtration. In addition to mesangial cells, he described podocytes, which sit outside the GBM. In 1995, Wilhelm summarized the podocyte structure-function relationships and those of other cell types. Through his work, a variety of cell types (MC, EC, podocytes) were described, and their structural relationship to the slit diaphragms and GBM with functional implications in the perfusion and filtration functions of the kidneys were subsequently elucidated.


  1. Sakai T, Kriz W. The structural relationship between mesangial cells and basement membrane of the renal glomerulus. Anat Embryol (Berl) 176 (3), 373-86. 1987.
  2. Mundel P, Kriz W. Structure and function of podocytes: an update. Anat Embryol (Berl) 192 (5), 385-97. Nov 1995.
  3. Kriz W. Maintenance and breakdown of glomerular tuft architecture. J Am Soc Nephrol 29 (4), 1075-1077. Apr 2018.
  4. Kriz W. The inability of podocytes to proliferate: cause consequences and origin. Anat Rec (Hoboken) 2019 Oct 12 [Online ahead of print].

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