Ultrafiltration (renal)

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Diagram showing the basic physiologic mechanisms of the kidney

In biological terms, ultrafiltration occurs at the barrier between the blood and the filtrate in the renal capsule or Bowman's capsule in the kidneys. The Bowman's capsule contains a dense capillary network called the glomerulus. Blood flows into these capillaries through the afferent arteriole and leaves through the efferent arteriole.

The high hydrostatic pressure forces small molecules such as water, glucose, amino acids, sodium chloride and urea through the filter, from the blood in the glomerular capsule across the basement membrane of the Bowman's capsule and into the nephron. This process is called ultrafiltration. The fluid filtered in this way is called glomerular filtrate.

Glomerular pressure is about 75 millimeters of mercury (10 kPa). It is opposed by osmotic pressure (30 mmHg, 4.0 kPa) and hydrostatic pressure (20 mmHg, 2.7 kPa) of solutes present in capsular space. This difference in pressure is called effective pressure (25 mmHg, 3.3 kPa).

In hemodialysis centers, ultrafiltration takes place on the hemodialysis machines when the venious pressure is greater than the TMP pressure.

It is also used in hemodialysis to clean whole blood while keeping its composition intact.


The structures of the layers of the glomerulus determine their permeability-selectivity (permselectivity). For instance, small ions such as sodium and potassium pass freely, while larger plasma proteins, such as hemoglobin tetramers, haptoglobin bound hemoglobin and albumin have practically no permeability at all. Also, negatively charged molecules will pass through far less frequently than positively charged ones.

Slow continuous ultrafiltration[edit]

Slow Continuous Ultrafiltration (SCUF) is an artificial method which approximately mimics the ultrafiltration function of the kidneys. SCUF is a continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) generally used to remove fluid from fluid overloaded patients suffering acute renal failure. During SCUF blood is removed from the body and is passed through an extracorporeal circuit through a hemofilter and a predetermined percentage of plasma water is removed based upon a prescription. Typically, no more than 2 liters an hour of fluid is removed. The remaining blood is returned to the patient. Unlike hemodialysis, hemofiltration and hemodiafiltration, no dialysate or replacement fluids are used in SCUF.[1]

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