Podocytes, also known as glomerular epithelial cells, are a type of cell located in the kidneys which help the kidneys filter out substances found in a person's blood. The kidneys are key to extracting waste products left in the body from food and other substances. As the blood passes through the kidneys, they filter these waste products from it and produce urine to flush the waste from the body.
The kidneys depend on nearly a million glomerulus. The glomerulus are made of thin blood vessels that carry the blood that must be filtered. The outside of each of the glomerulus is covered with a filtration membrane. This is where most of the filtering action takes place. The filtration membrane consists of three layers, one of which contains the podocytes.
A main body makes up each podocyte and thin extensions branch out from it. Several main extensions break off into what are known as "foot" extensions. The ends of these extensions, often referred to as "feet," keep the podocytes anchored to the blood vessels making up the glomerulus. The feet are responsible for more than simply holding the podocytes in place, however.
Each podocyte creates an opening or a gap between itself and the next podocyte. These gaps are like tiny slits, known as slit diaphragms, and it is here that the actual filtration takes places. Blood passes through the slit diaphragms and waste is filtered out. Podocytes are the key to creating these slits and keeping the filtration system working. Together with the glomerulus, the podocytes and other cells found in the kidneys ensure your body is functioning properly.
Problems occur when part of the filtration process is not working. If the kidneys don't filter out waste, it stays in the bloodstream and can be deadly. Diseases and genetic predispositions may cause the kidneys to start failing prematurely. The kidneys may also have a harder time working simply due to old age.
Another potential problem for the kidneys is the consumption of alcohol or drugs. These harmful substances dissolve into the blood stream and are filtered out by the kidneys to protect the consumer's body. However, if a person drinks too much alcohol for the kidneys to filter, the person risks alcohol poisoning. The kidneys, along with other organs, may be damaged by the harmful substances circulating throughout the person's body. Alcohol consumption can also lead to kidney infections even if other problems are not present.