What is the Loop of Henle?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The loop of Henle is a part of a nephron, a tiny tube inside the kidneys that filters solutes. Each kidney contains hundreds of thousands of individual nephrons, which pass between the cortex of the kidneys and the medulla, connecting to collecting ducts which route urine to the ureter so that it can be expressed. The loop is an important part of the whole system, as it allows the kidneys to filter out salt and maintain the correct balance of water in the body.

A loop of Henle can be found in one of the hundreds of thousands of nephrons contained within the kidneys.
A loop of Henle can be found in one of the hundreds of thousands of nephrons contained within the kidneys.

As the name would suggest, the structure is a large loop that dips down from the nephron to create a descending arm that connects with the medulla, and an ascending arm that moves back into the cortex of the kidney. As fluids move down the loop, water is filtered out, moving into the interstitial fluid of the medulla. When the fluid moves up the ascending arm, salts are pulled out, and the cells are impermeable to water, so no additional water is lost.

The loop of Henle dips down from the nephron into the medulla and then back into the cortex.
The loop of Henle dips down from the nephron into the medulla and then back into the cortex.

Because salt and water are filtered out at different points, the loop of Henle contributes to the formation of an area of high salt concentration in the medulla. Meanwhile, the filtrate in the nephron passes through to the collecting ducts. The ducts pass through the medulla, which means that they move through an area of increased salt concentration.

The loop of Henle allows the kidneys to maintain the correct balance of water in the body.
The loop of Henle allows the kidneys to maintain the correct balance of water in the body.

Water moves from areas of low concentration to areas of high concentration, and it will naturally want to pass from the filtrate to the saltier surrounding tissue. The body controls the amount of water that passes through with a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). When there is a great deal of salt in the blood, more of this hormone is produced, allowing water to flow freely through the collecting tubes and into the medulla and creating concentrated urine because less water ends up in the ureter. If the salt level in the blood is low, the collecting tubes become less permeable, allowing less water through and generating dilute urine.

The loop of Henle is part of a nephron, a tiny tube inside the kidneys that filters solutes.
The loop of Henle is part of a nephron, a tiny tube inside the kidneys that filters solutes.

Using the combination of ADH and the loop of Henle, the body can control the levels of salt and water present. When someone drinks a big glass of water, diluting salt in the blood, the kidneys express the water quickly to keep the balance level. If someone spends a few hours without drinking water, the kidneys will conserve the available water, which explains why morning urine tends to be very concentrated, because people don't usually drink during the night.

The kidneys and the body can adjust their activity to compensate for things like a large intake of salt or increased water consumption to keep levels of salt and water in the body stable. In people with kidney failure, dialysis is used to replace the function of the kidneys, filtering the blood in a machine that stands in for the huge numbers of nephrons that normally do all the work.

The kidneys contain millions of nephrons, which are responsible for filtering the blood.
The kidneys contain millions of nephrons, which are responsible for filtering the blood.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon161832

Blood pressure is maintained by the juxtaglomerular apparatus, which interacts with the distal convoluted tubule to secrete renin (angiotensinogenase) based on the concentration of filtrate. Likewise, aldosterone acts on the distal convoluted tubule. The loop of henle does not affect blood pressure.

peasy

So does the loop of Henle affect the blood pressure? I know that maintaining good blood pressure has something to do with the kidneys, but I wasn't sure if this had anything to do with the loop of Henle.

Are there any more biology-minded people out there that can tell me?

posner

I remember studying this in biology in college, but I never really got it. This article made it a lot clearer, thanks!

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