Module 16: The Urinary System

Lesson 2: Gross Anatomy of the Urinary Tract

Giải Phẫu Đại Thể Đường Niệu

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Dưới đây là danh sách những thuật ngữ Y khoa của module The Urinary System.
Khái quát được số lượng thuật ngữ sẽ xuất hiện trong bài đọc và nghe sẽ giúp bạn thoải mái tiêu thụ nội dung hơn. Sau khi hoàn thành nội dung đọc và nghe, bạn hãy quay lại đây và luyện tập (practice) để quen dần các thuật ngữ này. Đừng ép bản thân phải nhớ các thuật ngữ này vội vì bạn sẽ gặp và ôn lại danh sách này trong những bài học (lesson) khác của cùng một module.

Medical Terminology: The Urinary System

anatomical sphincter
smooth or skeletal muscle surrounding the lumen of a vessel or hollow organ that can restrict flow when contracted
angiotensin I
protein produced by the enzymatic action of renin on angiotensinogen; inactive precursor of angiotensin II
angiotensin II
protein produced by the enzymatic action of ACE on inactive angiotensin I; actively causes vasoconstriction and stimulates aldosterone release by the adrenal cortex
angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE)
enzyme produced by the lungs that catalyzes the reaction of inactive angiotensin I into active angiotensin II
inactive protein in the circulation produced by the liver; precursor of angiotensin I; must be modified by the enzymes renin and ACE to be activated
absence of urine produced; production of 50 mL or less per day
protein-forming water channels through the lipid bilayer of the cell; allows water to cross; activation in the collecting ducts is under the control of ADH
Bowman’s capsule
cup-shaped sack lined by a simple squamous epithelium (parietal surface) and specialized cells called podocytes (visceral surface) that participate in the filtration process; receives the filtrate which then passes on to the PCTs
brush border
formed by microvilli on the surface of certain cuboidal cells; in the kidney it is found in the PCT; increases surface area for absorption in the kidney
cup-like structures receiving urine from the collecting ducts where it passes on to the renal pelvis and ureter
cortical nephrons
nephrons with loops of Henle that do not extend into the renal medulla
countercurrent multiplier system
involves the descending and ascending loops of Henle directing forming urine in opposing directions to create a concentration gradient when combined with variable permeability and sodium pumping
detrusor muscle
smooth muscle in the bladder wall; fibers run in all directions to reduce the size of the organ when emptying it of urine
distal convoluted tubules
portions of the nephron distal to the loop of Henle that receive hyposmotic filtrate from the loop of Henle and empty into collecting ducts
compound that increases urine output, leading to decreased water conservation
efferent arteriole
arteriole carrying blood from the glomerulus to the capillary beds around the convoluted tubules and loop of Henle; portion of the portal system
group of vasoconstrictive, 21-amino acid peptides; produced by endothelial cells of the renal blood vessels, mesangial cells, and cells of the DCT
external urinary sphincter
skeletal muscle; must be relaxed consciously to void urine
small windows through a cell, allowing rapid filtration based on size; formed in such a way as to allow substances to cross through a cell without mixing with cell contents
filtration slits
formed by pedicels of podocytes; substances filter between the pedicels based on size
forming urine
filtrate undergoing modifications through secretion and reabsorption before true urine is produced
glomerular filtration rate (GFR)
rate of renal filtration
tuft of capillaries surrounded by Bowman’s capsule; filters the blood based on size
presence of glucose in the urine; caused by high blood glucose levels that exceed the ability of the kidneys to reabsorb the glucose; usually the result of untreated or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus
loss of ability to control micturition
intercalated cell
specialized cell of the collecting ducts that secrete or absorb acid or bicarbonate; important in acid–base balance
internal urinary sphincter
smooth muscle at the juncture of the bladder and urethra; relaxes as the bladder fills to allow urine into the urethra
plant polysaccharide injected to determine GFR; is neither secreted nor absorbed by the kidney, so its appearance in the urine is directly proportional to its filtration rate
juxtaglomerular apparatus (JGA)
located at the juncture of the DCT and the afferent and efferent arterioles of the glomerulus; plays a role in the regulation of renal blood flow and GFR
juxtaglomerular cell
modified smooth muscle cells of the afferent arteriole; secretes renin in response to a drop in blood pressure
juxtamedullary nephrons
nephrons adjacent to the border of the cortex and medulla with loops of Henle that extend into the renal medulla
leaky tight junctions
tight junctions in which the sealing strands of proteins between the membranes of adjacent cells are fewer in number and incomplete; allows limited intercellular movement of solvent and solutes
leukocyte esterase
enzyme produced by leukocytes that can be detected in the urine and that serves as an indirect indicator of urinary tract infection
loop of Henle
descending and ascending portions between the proximal and distal convoluted tubules; those of cortical nephrons do not extend into the medulla, whereas those of juxtamedullary nephrons do extend into the medulla
macula densa
cells found in the part of the DCT forming the JGA; sense Na+ concentration in the forming urine
inner region of kidney containing the renal pyramids
contractile cells found in the glomerulus; can contract or relax to regulate filtration rate
also called urination or voiding
myogenic mechanism
mechanism by which smooth muscle responds to stretch by contracting; an increase in blood pressure causes vasoconstriction and a decrease in blood pressure causes vasodilation so that blood flow downstream remains steady
functional units of the kidney that carry out all filtration and modification to produce urine; consist of renal corpuscles, proximal and distal convoluted tubules, and descending and ascending loops of Henle; drain into collecting ducts
net filtration pressure (NFP)
pressure of fluid across the glomerulus; calculated by taking the hydrostatic pressure of the capillary and subtracting the colloid osmotic pressure of the blood and the hydrostatic pressure of Bowman’s capsule
below normal urine production of 400–500 mL/day
softening of bones due to a lack of mineralization with calcium and phosphate; most often due to lack of vitamin D; in children, osteomalacia is termed rickets; not to be confused with osteoporosis
finger-like projections of podocytes surrounding glomerular capillaries; interdigitate to form a filtration membrane
peritubular capillaries
second capillary bed of the renal portal system; surround the proximal and distal convoluted tubules; associated with the vasa recta
physiological sphincter
sphincter consisting of circular smooth muscle indistinguishable from adjacent muscle but possessing differential innervations, permitting its function as a sphincter; structurally weak
cells forming finger-like processes; form the visceral layer of Bowman’s capsule; pedicels of the podocytes interdigitate to form a filtration membrane
urine production in excess of 2.5 L/day; may be caused by diabetes insipidus, diabetes mellitus, or excessive use of diuretics
principal cell
found in collecting ducts and possess channels for the recovery or loss of sodium and potassium; under the control of aldosterone; also have aquaporin channels under ADH control to regulate recovery of water
proximal convoluted tubules (PCTs)
tortuous tubules receiving filtrate from Bowman’s capsule; most active part of the nephron in reabsorption and secretion
renal columns
extensions of the renal cortex into the renal medulla; separates the renal pyramids; contains blood vessels and connective tissues
renal corpuscle
consists of the glomerulus and Bowman’s capsule
renal cortex
outer part of kidney containing all of the nephrons; some nephrons have loops of Henle extending into the medulla
renal fat pad
adipose tissue between the renal fascia and the renal capsule that provides protective cushioning to the kidney
renal hilum
recessed medial area of the kidney through which the renal artery, renal vein, ureters, lymphatics, and nerves pass
renal papillae
medullary area of the renal pyramids where collecting ducts empty urine into the minor calyces
renal pyramids
six to eight cone-shaped tissues in the medulla of the kidney containing collecting ducts and the loops of Henle of juxtamedullary nephrons
enzyme produced by juxtaglomerular cells in response to decreased blood pressure or sympathetic nervous activity; catalyzes the conversion of angiotensinogen into angiotensin I
behind the peritoneum; in the case of the kidney and ureters, between the parietal peritoneum and the abdominal wall
sacral micturition center
group of neurons in the sacral region of the spinal cord that controls urination; acts reflexively unless its action is modified by higher brain centers to allow voluntary urination
specific gravity
weight of a liquid compared to pure water, which has a specific gravity of 1.0; any solute added to water will increase its specific gravity
systemic edema
increased fluid retention in the interstitial spaces and cells of the body; can be seen as swelling over large areas of the body, particularly the lower extremities
area at the base of the bladder marked by the two ureters in the posterior–lateral aspect and the urethral orifice in the anterior aspect oriented like points on a triangle
tubuloglomerular feedback
feedback mechanism involving the JGA; macula densa cells monitor Na+ concentration in the terminal portion of the ascending loop of Henle and act to cause vasoconstriction or vasodilation of afferent and efferent arterioles to alter GFR
transports urine from the bladder to the outside environment
analysis of urine to diagnose disease
heme-derived pigment that imparts the typical yellow color of urine
vasa recta
branches of the efferent arterioles that parallel the course of the loops of Henle and are continuous with the peritubular capillaries; with the glomerulus, form a portal system
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Rather than start with urine formation, this article will start with urine excretion. Urine is a fluid of variable composition that requires specialized structures to remove it from the body safely and efficiently. Blood is filtered, and the filtrate is transformed into urine at a relatively constant rate throughout the day. This processed liquid is stored until a convenient time for excretion. All structures involved in the transport and storage of the urine are large enough to be visible to the naked eye. This transport and storage system not only stores the waste, but it protects the tissues from damage due to the wide range of pH and osmolarity of the urine, prevents infection by foreign organisms, and for the male, provides reproductive functions.
The urethra transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body for disposal. The urethra is the only urologic organ that shows any significant anatomic difference between males and females; all other urine transport structures are identical (Figure 1).

The urethra in both males and females begins inferior and central to the two ureteral openings forming the three points of a triangular-shaped area at the base of the bladder called the trigone (Greek tri- = “triangle” and the root of the word “trigonometry”). The urethra tracks posterior and inferior to the pubic symphysis (see Figure 1a). In both males and females, the proximal urethra is lined by transitional epithelium, whereas the terminal portion is a nonkeratinized, stratified squamous epithelium. In the male, pseudostratified columnar epithelium lines the urethra between these two cell types. Voiding is regulated by an involuntary autonomic nervous system-controlled internal urinary sphincter, consisting of smooth muscle and voluntary skeletal muscle that forms the external urinary sphincter below it.

A. Female Urethra

The external urethral orifice is embedded in the anterior vaginal wall inferior to the clitoris, superior to the vaginal opening (introitus), and medial to the labia minora. Its short length, about 4 cm, is less of a barrier to fecal bacteria than the longer male urethra and the best explanation for the greater incidence of UTI in females. Voluntary control of the external urethral sphincter is a function of the pudendal nerve. It arises in the sacral region of the spinal cord, traveling via the S2–S4 nerves of the sacral plexus.

B. Male Urethra

The male urethra passes through the prostate gland immediately inferior to the bladder before passing below the pubic symphysis (see Figure 1b). The length of the male urethra varies between people but averages 20 cm in length. It is divided into four regions: the preprostatic urethra, the prostatic urethra, the membranous urethra, and the spongy or penile urethra. The preprostatic urethra is very short and incorporated into the bladder wall. The prostatic urethra passes through the prostate gland. During sexual intercourse, it receives sperm via the ejaculatory ducts and secretions from the seminal vesicles. Paired Cowper’s glands (bulbourethral glands) produce and secrete mucus into the urethra to buffer urethral pH during sexual stimulation. The mucus neutralizes the usually acidic environment and lubricates the urethra, decreasing the resistance to ejaculation. The membranous urethra passes through the deep muscles of the perineum, where it is invested by the overlying urethral sphincters. The spongy urethra exits at the tip (external urethral orifice) of the penis after passing through the corpus spongiosum. Mucous glands are found along much of the length of the urethra and protect the urethra from extremes of urine pH. Innervation is the same in both males and females.
The urinary bladder collects urine from both ureters (Figure 2). The bladder lies anterior to the uterus in females, posterior to the pubic bone and anterior to the rectum. During late pregnancy, its capacity is reduced due to compression by the enlarging uterus, resulting in increased frequency of urination. In males, the anatomy is similar, minus the uterus, and with the addition of the prostate inferior to the bladder. The bladder is a retroperitoneal organ whose “dome” distends superiorly when the bladder is filling with urine.

The bladder is a highly distensible organ comprised of irregular crisscrossing bands of smooth muscle collectively called the detrusor muscle. The interior surface is made of transitional cellular epithelium that is structurally suited for the large volume fluctuations of the bladder. When empty, it resembles columnar epithelia, but when stretched, it “transitions” (hence the name) to a squamous appearance (see Figure 2). Volumes in adults can range from nearly zero to 500–600 mL.

The detrusor muscle contracts with significant force in the young. The bladder’s strength diminishes with age, but voluntary contractions of abdominal skeletal muscles can increase intra-abdominal pressure to promote more forceful bladder emptying. Such voluntary contraction is also used in forceful defecation and childbirth.

Micturition Reflex

Micturition is a less-often used, but proper term for urination or voiding. It results from an interplay of involuntary and voluntary actions by the internal and external urethral sphincters. When bladder volume reaches about 150 mL, an urge to void is sensed but is easily overridden. Voluntary control of urination relies on consciously preventing relaxation of the external urethral sphincter to maintain urinary continence. As the bladder fills, subsequent urges become harder to ignore. Ultimately, voluntary constraint fails with resulting incontinence, which will occur as bladder volume approaches 300 to 400 mL.

Normal micturition is a result of stretch receptors in the bladder wall that transmit nerve impulses to the sacral region of the spinal cord to generate a spinal reflex. The resulting parasympathetic neural outflow causes contraction of the detrusor muscle and relaxation of the involuntary internal urethral sphincter. At the same time, the spinal cord inhibits somatic motor neurons, resulting in the relaxation of the skeletal muscle of the external urethral sphincter. The micturition reflex is active in infants but with maturity, children learn to override the reflex by asserting external sphincter control, thereby delaying voiding (potty training). This reflex may be preserved even in the face of spinal cord injury that results in paraplegia or quadriplegia. However, relaxation of the external sphincter may not be possible in all cases, and therefore, periodic catheterization may be necessary for bladder emptying.

Nerves involved in the control of urination include the hypogastric, pelvic, and pudendal (Figure 3). Voluntary micturition requires an intact spinal cord and functional pudendal nerve arising from the sacral micturition center. Since the external urinary sphincter is voluntary skeletal muscle, actions by cholinergic neurons maintain contraction (and thereby continence) during filling of the bladder. At the same time, sympathetic nervous activity via the hypogastric nerves suppresses contraction of the detrusor muscle. With further bladder stretch, afferent signals traveling over sacral pelvic nerves activate parasympathetic neurons. This activates efferent neurons to release acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junctions, producing detrusor contraction and bladder emptying.
The kidneys and ureters are completely retroperitoneal, and the bladder has a peritoneal covering only over the dome. As urine is formed, it drains into the calyces of the kidney, which merge to form the funnel-shaped renal pelvis in the hilum of each kidney. The renal pelvis narrows to become the ureter of each kidney. As urine passes through the ureter, it does not passively drain into the bladder but rather is propelled by waves of peristalsis. As the ureters enter the pelvis, they sweep laterally, hugging the pelvic walls. As they approach the bladder, they turn medially and pierce the bladder wall obliquely. This is important because it creates a one-way valve (a physiological sphincter rather than an anatomical sphincter) that allows urine into the bladder but prevents reflux of urine from the bladder back into the ureter. Children born lacking this oblique course of the ureter through the bladder wall are susceptible to “vesicoureteral reflux,” which dramatically increases their risk of serious UTI. Pregnancy also increases the likelihood of reflux and UTI.

The ureters are approximately 30 cm long. The inner mucosa is lined with transitional epithelium (Figure 4) and scattered goblet cells that secrete protective mucus. The muscular layer of the ureter consists of longitudinal and circular smooth muscles that create the peristaltic contractions to move the urine into the bladder without the aid of gravity. Finally, a loose adventitial layer composed of collagen and fat anchors the ureters between the parietal peritoneum and the posterior abdominal wall.

OpenStax. (2022). Anatomy and Physiology 2e. Rice University. Retrieved June 15, 2023. ISBN-13: 978-1-711494-06-7 (Hardcover) ISBN-13: 978-1-711494-05-0 (Paperback) ISBN-13: 978-1-951693-42-8 (Digital). License: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). Access for free at

The urethra transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. This image shows (a) a female urethra and (b) a male urethra.

(a) Anterior cross section of the bladder. (b) The detrusor muscle of the bladder (source: monkey tissue) LM × 448. (Micrograph provided by the Regents of the University of Michigan Medical School © 2012)

Peristaltic contractions help to move urine through the lumen with contributions from fluid pressure and gravity. LM × 128. (Micrograph provided by the Regents of the University of Michigan Medical School © 2012)

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  1. The urethra is the only urinary structure that differs significantly between males and females.
  2. This is due to the dual role of the male urethra in transporting both urine and semen.
  3. The urethra arises from the trigone area at the base of the bladder.
  4. Urination is controlled by an involuntary internal sphincter of smooth muscle and a voluntary external sphincter of skeletal muscle.
  5. The shorter female urethra contributes to the higher incidence of bladder infections in females.
  6. The male urethra receives secretions from the prostate gland, Cowper’s gland, and seminal vesicles as well as sperm.
  7. The bladder is largely retroperitoneal and can hold up to 500 to 600 mL urine.
  8. Micturition is the process of voiding the urine and involves both involuntary and voluntary actions.
  9. Voluntary control of micturition requires a mature and intact sacral micturition center.
  10. It also requires an intact spinal cord.
  11. Loss of control of micturition is called incontinence and results in voiding when the bladder contains about 250 mL urine.
  12. The ureters are retroperitoneal and lead from the renal pelvis of the kidney to the trigone area at the base of the bladder.
  13. A thick muscular wall consisting of longitudinal and circular smooth muscle helps move urine toward the bladder by way of peristaltic contractions.
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