CIE A Level Biology (9700) 2019-2021

Revision Notes

14.1.6 Osmoregulation

Osmoregulation

  • The control of the water potential of body fluids is known as osmoregulation
  • Osmoregulation is a key part of homeostasis
  • Specialised sensory neurones, known as osmoreceptors, monitor the water potential of the blood (these osmoreceptors are found in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus)
  • If the osmoreceptors detect a decrease in the water potential of the blood, nerve impulses are sent along these sensory neurones to the posterior pituitary gland (another part of the brain just below the hypothalamus)
  • These nerve impulses stimulate the posterior pituitary gland to release antidiuretic hormone (ADH)
  • ADH molecules enter the blood and travel throughout the body
  • ADH causes the kidneys to reabsorb more water
  • This reduces the loss of water in the urine

The effect of ADH on the kidneys

  • Water is reabsorbed by osmosis from the filtrate in the nephron
  • This reabsorption occurs as the filtrate passes through structures known as collecting ducts
  • ADH causes the luminal membranes (ie. those facing the lumen of the nephron) of the collecting duct cells to become more permeable to water
  • ADH does this by causing an increase in the number of aquaporins (water-permeable channels) in the luminal membranes of the collecting duct cells. This occurs in the following way:
    • Collecting duct cells contain vesicles, the membranes of which contain many aquaporins
    • ADH molecules bind to receptor proteins, activating a signalling cascade that leads to the phosphorylation of the aquaporin molecules
    • This activates the aquaporins, causing the vesicles to fuse with the luminal membranes of the collecting duct cells
    • This increases the permeability of the membrane to water
  • As the filtrate in the nephron travels along the collecting duct, water molecules move from the collecting duct (high water potential), through the aquaporins, and into the tissue fluid and blood plasma in the medulla (low water potential)
  • As the filtrate in the collecting duct loses water it becomes more concentrated
  • As a result, a small volume of concentrated urine is produced. This flows from the kidneys, through the ureters and into the bladder

Exam Tip

If the water potential of the blood is too high, the exact opposite happens:

  • Osmoreceptors in the hypothalamus are not stimulated
  • No nerve impulses are sent to the posterior pituitary gland
  • No ADH released
  • Aquaporins are moved out of the luminal membranes of the collecting duct cells
  • Collecting duct cells are no longer permeable to water
  • The filtrate flows along collecting duct but loses no water and is very dilute
  • A large volume of dilute urine is produced
  • This flows from the kidneys, through the ureters and into the bladder

Author:

Alistair graduated from Oxford University in 2014 with a degree in Biological Sciences. He has taught GCSE/IGCSE Biology, as well as Biology and Environmental Systems & Societies for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. While teaching in Oxford, Alistair completed his MA Education as Head of Department for Environmental Systems and Societies.
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