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Per gram of tissue, the kidneys are among our most highly perfused organs. Yet the renal cortex and, in particular, the renal medulla are susceptible to hypoxia. In turn, hypoxia is a major pathophysiological feature of both acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease. We identify seven factors that render the kidney susceptible to hypoxia: (1) the large metabolic demand imposed by active reabsorption of sodium; (2) limitations on oxygen delivery to cortical tissue imposed by the density of peritubular capillaries; (3) the poor capacity for angiogenesis in the adult kidney; (4) the limited ability of the renal vasculature to dilate in response to hypoxia; (5) diffusive oxygen shunting between arteries and veins in the cortex and descending and ascending vasa recta in the medulla; (6) the physiological requirement for low medullary blood flow to facilitate urinary concentration; and (7) the topography of vascular-tubular arrangements in the outer medulla that limit oxygen delivery to the thick ascending limb of Henle's loop. Recent collaborative efforts between anatomists, physiologists, and mathematicians have improved our understanding of the roles of these factors in both physiological regulation of intrarenal oxygenation and development of renal hypoxia under pathophysiological conditions. We are also better able to understand these apparent maladaptations in the context of evolution. That is, they can be explained by the combined effects of historical contingency (our ancestral life in the sea) and selection pressures imposed by the multiple functions of the kidney to regulate extracellular fluid volume, retain water, and control erythrocyte production. Anat Rec, 2019.
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