Written by 
Published in Clinical Pathology
Monday, 28 August 2017 01:46
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Tests to Assess Proximal Tubular Function
Renal tubules efficiently reabsorb 99% of the glomerular filtrate to conserve the essential substances like glucose, amino acids, and water.
1. Glycosuria: In renal glycosuria, glucose is excreted in urine, while blood glucose level is normal. This is because of a specific tubular lesion which leads to impairment of glucose reabsorption. Renal glycosuria is a benign condition. Glycosuria can also occur in Fanconi syndrome.
2. Generalized aminoaciduria: In proximal renal tubular dysfunction, many amino acids are excreted in urine due to defective tubular reabsorption.
3. Tubular proteinuria (Low molecular weight proteinuria): Normally, low molecular weight proteins2 –microglobulin, retinol-binding protein, lysozyme, and α1 –microglobulin) are freely filtered by glomeruli and are completely reabsorbed by proximal renal tubules. With tubular damage, these low molecular weight proteins are excreted in urine and can be detected by urine protein electrophoresis. Increased amounts of these proteins in urine are indicative of renal tubular damage.
4. Urinary concentration of sodium: If both BUN and serum creatinine are acutely increased, it is necessary to distinguish between prerenal azotemia (renal underperfusion) and acute tubular necrosis. In prerenal azotemia, renal tubules are functioning normally and reabsorb sodium, while in acute tubular necrosis, tubular function is impaired and sodium absorption is decreased. Therefore, in prerenal azotemia, urinay sodium concentration is < 20 mEq/L while in acute tubular necrosis, it is > 20 mEq/L.
5. Fractional excretion of sodium (FENa): Measurement of urinary sodium concentration is affected by urine volume and can produce misleading results. Therefore, to avoid this, fractional excretion of sodium is calculated. This refers to the percentage of filtered sodium that has been absorbed and percentage that has been excreted. Measurement of fractional sodium excretion is a better indicator of tubular absorption of sodium than quantitation of urine sodium alone.
This test is indicated in acute renal failure. In oliguric patients, this is the most reliable means of early distinction between pre-renal failure and renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis. It is calculated from the following formula:
(Urine sodium × Plasma creatinine) × 100%
(Plasma sodium × Urine creatinine)
In pre-renal failure this ratio is less than 1%, and in acute tubular necrosis it is more than 1%. In pre-renal failure (due to reduced renal perfusion), aldosterone secretion is stimulated which causes maximal sodium conservation by the tubules and the ratio is less than 1%. In acute tubular necrosis, maximum sodium reabsorption is not possible due to tubular cell injury and consequently the ratio will be more than 1%. Values above 3% are strongly suggestive of acute tubular necrosis.
Tests to Assess Distal Tubular Function
1. Urine specific gravity: Normal specific gravity is 1.003 to 1.030. It depends on state of hydration and fluid intake.
  1. Causes of increased specific gravity:
    a. Reduced renal perfusion (with preservation of concentrating ability of tubules),
    b. Proteinuria,
    c. Glycosuria,
    d. Glomerulonephritis.
    e. Urinary tract obstruction.
  2. Causes of reduced specific gravity:
    a. Diabetes insipidus
    b. Chronic renal failure
    c. Impaired concentrating ability due to diseases of tubules.
As a test of renal function, it gives information about the ability of renal tubules to concentrate the glomerular filtrate. This concentrating ability is lost in diseases of renal tubules.
Fixed specific gravity of 1.010, which cannot be lowered or increased by increasing or decreasing the fluid intake respectively, is an indication of chronic renal failure.
2. Urine osmolality: The most commonly employed test to evaluate tubular function is measurement of urine/plasma osmolality. This is the most sensitive method for determination of ability of concentration. Osmolality measures number of dissolved particles in a solution. Specific gravity, on the other hand, is the ratio of mass of a solution to the mass of water i.e. it measures total mass of solute. Specific gravity depends on both the number and the nature of dissolved particles while osmolality is exact number of solute particles in a solution. Specific gravity measurement can be affected by the presence of solutes of large molecular weight like proteins and glucose, while osmolality is not. Therefore measurement of osmolality is preferred.
When solutes are dissolved in a solvent, certain changes take place like lowering of freezing point, increase in boiling point, decrease in vapor pressure, or increase of osmotic pressure of the solvent. These properties are made use of in measuring osmolality by an instrument called as osmometer.
Osmolality is expressed as milliOsmol/kg of water.
Urine/plasma osmolality ratio is helpful in distinguishing pre-renal azotemia (in which ratio is higher) from acute renal failure due to acute tubular necrosis (in which ratio is lower). If urine and plasma osmolality are almost similar, then there is defective tubular reabsorption of water.
3. Water deprivation test: If the value of baseline osmolality of urine is inconclusive, then water deprivation test is performed. In this test, water intake is restricted for a specified period of time followed by measurement of specific gravity or osmolality. Normally, urine osmolality should rise in response to water deprivation. If it fails to rise, then desmopressin is administered to differentiate between central diabetes insipidus and nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Urinary concentration ability is corrected after administration of desmopressin in central diabetes insipidus, but not in nephrogenic diabetes insipidus.
If urine osmolality is > 800 mOsm/kg of water or specific gravity is ≥1.025 following dehydration, concentrating ability of renal tubules is normal. However, normal result does not rule out presence of renal disease.
False result will be obtained if the patient is on low-salt, low-protein diet or is suffering from major electrolyte and water disturbance.
4. Water loading antidiuretic hormone suppression test: This test assesses the capacity of the kidney to make urine dilute after water loading.
After overnight fast, patient empties the bladder and drinks 20 ml/kg of water in 15-30 minutes. The urine is collected at hourly intervals for the next 4 hours for measurements of urine volume, specific gravity, and osmolality. Plasma levels of antidiuretic hormone and serum osmolality should be measured at hourly intervals.
Normally, more than 90% of water should be excreted in 4 hours. The specific gravity should fall to 1.003 and osmolality should fall to < 100 mOsm/kg. Plasma level of antidiuretic hormone should be appropriate for serum osmolality. In renal function impairment, urine volume is reduced (<80% of fluid intake is excreted) and specific gravity and osmolality fail to decrease. The test is also impaired in adrenocortical insufficiency, malabsorption, obesity, ascites, congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, and dehydration.
This test is not advisable in patients with cardiac failure or kidney disease. If there is failure to excrete water load, fatal hyponatremia can occur.
5. Ammonium chloride loading test (Acid load test): Diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is usually considered after excluding other causes of metabolic acidosis. This test is considered as a ‘gold standard’ for the diagnosis of distal or type 1 renal tubular acidosis. Urine pH and plasma bicarbonate are measured after overnight fasting. If pH is less than 5.4, acidifying ability of renal tubules is normal. If pH is greater than 5.4 and plasma bicarbonate is low, diagnosis of renal tubular acidosis is confirmed. In both the above cases, further testing need not be performed. In all other cases in which neither of above results is obtained, further testing is carried out. Patient is given ammonium chloride orally (0.1 gm/kg) over 1 hour after overnight fast and urine samples are collected hourly for next 6-8 hours. Ammonium ion dissociates into H+ and NH3. Ammonium chloride makes blood acidic. If pH is less than 5.4 in any one of the samples, acidifying ability of the distal tubules is normal.

Additional Info

  • Reference(s):
    • Gaw A, Murphy MJ, Cowan RA, O’Reilly DSJ, Stewart MJ, Shepherd J. Clinical Biochemistry: An Illustrated Colour Text (3rd Ed). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone 2004.
    • Johnson CA, Levey AS, Coresh J, Levin A, Lau J, Eknoyan G. Clinical practice guidelines for chronic kidney disease in adults: Part II. Glomerular filtration rate, proteinuria, and other markers Am Fam Physician 2004;70:1091-7.
    • Stevens LA, Coresh J, Green T, Levey AS. Assessing kidney function-measured and estimated glomerular filtration rate. N Engl J Med 2006;354:2473-83.
    • Stevens LA, Levey AS. Measurement of kidney function. Med Clin N Am 2005;89:457-73.
Last modified on Monday, 28 August 2017 02:24
Dayyal Dg.

Medical Laboratory Technician at National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, Karachi. | Author/Writer/Blogger

Related items

    Anatomically, stomach is divided into four parts: cardia, fundus, body, and pyloric part. Cardia is the upper part surrounding the entrance of the esophagus and is lined by the mucus-secreting epithelium. The epithelium of the fundus and the body of the stomach is composed of different cell types including: (i) mucus-secreting cells which protect gastric mucosa from self-digestion by forming an overlying thick layer of mucus, (ii) parietal cells which secrete hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor, and (iii) peptic cells or chief cells which secrete the proteolytic enzyme pepsinogen. Pyloric part is divided into pyloric antrum and pyloric canal. It is lined by mucus-secreting cells and gastrin-secreting neuroendocrine cells (G cells) (Figure 859.1).
    Figure 859.1 Parts of stomach and their lining cells
    Figure 859.1 Parts of stomach and their lining cells 
    In the stomach, ingested food is mechanically and chemically broken down to form semi-digested liquid called chyme. Following relaxation of pyloric sphincter, chyme passes into the duodenum.
    There are three phases of gastric acid secretion: cephalic, gastric, and intestinal.
    • Cephalic or neurogenic phase: This phase is initiated by the sight, smell, taste, or thought of food that causes stimulation of vagal nuclei in the brain. Vagus nerve directly stimulates parietal cells to secrete acid; in addition, it also stimulates antral G cells to secrete gastrin in blood (which is also a potent stimulus for gastric acid secretion) (Figure 859.2). Cephalic phase is abolished by vagotomy.
    • Gastric phase: Entry of swallowed food into the stomach causes gastric distension and induces gastric phase. Distension of antrum and increase in pH due to neutralization of acid by food stimulate antral G cells to secrete gastrin into the circulation. Gastrin, in turn, causes release of hydrochloric acid from parietal cells.
    • Intestinal phase: Entry of digested proteins into the duodenum causes an increase in acid output from the stomach. It is thought that certain hormones and absorbed amino acids stimulate parietal cells to secrete acid.
    The secretion from the stomach is called as gastric juice. The chief constituents of the gastric juice are:
    • Hydrochloric acid (HCl): This is secreted by the parietal cells of the fundus and the body of the stomach. HCl provides the high acidic pH necessary for activation of pepsinogen to pepsin. Gastric acid secretion is stimulated by histamine, acetylcholine, and gastrin (Figure 859.2). HCl kills most microorganisms entering the stomach and also denatures proteins (breaks hydrogen bonds making polypeptide chains to unfold). Its secretion is inhibited by somatostatin (secreted by D cells in pancreas and by mucosa of intestine), gastric inhibitory peptide (secreted by K cells in duodenum and jejunum), prostaglandin, and secretin (secreted by S cells in duodenum).
    • Pepsin: Pepsin is secreted by chief cells in stomach. Pepsin causes partial digestion of proteins leading to the formation of large polypeptide molecules (optimal function at pH 1.0 to 3.0). Its secretion is enhanced by vagal stimulation.
    • Mucus
    • Intrinsic factor (IF): IF is necessary for absorption of vitamin B12 in the terminal ileum. It is secreted by parietal cells of stomach.
    Figure 859.2 Stimulation of gastric acid secretion
    Figure 859.2 Stimulation of gastric acid secretion. Three receptors on parietal cells stimulate acid secretion: histamine (H2) receptor, acetylcholine or cholinergic receptor, and gastrin/CCK-B receptor. Histamine is released by enterochromaffin-like cells in lamina propria. Acetylcholine is released from nerve endings. Gastrin is released from G cells in antrum (in response to amino acids in food, antral distention, and gastrin-releasing peptide). After binding to receptors, H+ is secreted in exchange for K+ by proton pump
    • Gastric intubation for gastric analysis is contraindicated in esophageal stricture or varices, active nasopharyngeal disease, diverticula, malignancy, recent history of severe gastric hemorrhage, hypertension, aortic aneurysm, cardiac arrhythmias, congestive cardiac failure, or non-cooperative patient.
    • Pyloric stenosis: Obstruction of gastric outlet can elevate gastric acid output due to raised gastrin (following antral distension).
    • Pentagastrin stimulation is contraindicated in cases with allergy to pentagastrin, and recent severe gastric hemorrhge due to peptic ulcer disease.
    Gastric analysis is not a commonly performed procedure because of following reasons:
    • It is an invasive and cumbersome technique that is traumatic and unpleasant for the patient.
    • Information obtained is not diagnostic in itself.
    • Availability of better tests for diagnosis such as endoscopy and radiology (for suspected peptic ulcer or malignancy); serum gastrin estimation (for ZE syndrome); vitamin assays, Schilling test, and antiparietal cell antibodies (for pernicious anemia); and tests for Helicobacter pylori infection (in duodenal or gastric ulcer).
    • Availability of better medical line of treatment that obviates need for surgery in many patients.
    1. Hollander’s test (Insulin hypoglycemia test): In the past, this test was used for confirmation of completeness of vagotomy (done for duodenal ulcer).

      Hypoglycemia is a potent stimulus for gastric acid secretion and is mediated by vagus nerve. This response is abolished by vagotomy.

      In this test, after determining BAO, insulin is administered intravenously (0.15-0.2 units/kg) and acid output is estimated every 15 minutes for 2 hours (8 post-stimulation samples). Vagotomy is considered as complete if, after insulin-induced hypoglycemia (blood glucose < 45 mg/dl), no acid output is observed within 45 minutres.

      The test gives reliable results only if blood glucose level falls below 50 mg/dl at some time following insulin injection. It is best carried out after 3-6 months of vagotomy.

      The test is no longer recommended because of the risk associated with hypoglycemia. Myocardial infarction, shock, and death have also been reported.

    2. Fractional test meal: In the past, test meals (e.g. oat meal gruel, alcohol) were administered orally to stimulate gastric secretion and determine MAO or PAO. Currently, parenteral pentagastrin is the gastric stimulant of choice.

    3. Tubeless gastric analysis: This is an indirect and rapid method for determining output of free hydrochloric acid in gastric juice. In this test, a cationexchange resin tagged to a dye (azure A) is orally administered. In the stomach, the dye is displaced from the resin by the free hydrogen ions of the hydrochloric acid. The displaced azure A is absorbed in the small intestine, enters the bloodstream, and is excreted in urine. Urinary concentration of the dye is measured photometrically or by visual comparison with known color standards. The quantity of the dye excreted is proportional to the gastric acid output. However, if kidney or liver function is impaired, false results may be obtained. The test is no longer in use.

    4. Spot check of gastric pH: According to some investigators, spot determination of pH of fasting gastric juice (obtained by nasogastric intubation) can detect the presence of hypochlorhydria (if pH>5.0 in men or >7.0 in women).

    5. Congo red test during esophagogastroduodenoscopy: This test is done to determine the completeness of vagotomy. Congo red dye is sprayed into the stomach during esophagogastroduodenoscopy; if it turns red, it indicates presence of functional parietal cells in stomach with capacity of producing acid.
    • Volume of gastric juice: 20-100 ml
    • Appearance: Clear
    • pH: 1.5 to 3.5
    • Basal acid output: Up to 5 mEq/hour
    • Peak acid output: 1 to 20 mEq/hour
    • Ratio of basal acid output to peak acid output: <0.20 or < 20%

Useful Sites

  • NCBI

    National Center for Biotechnology Information
  • LTO

    Lab Tests Online® by AACC
  • ASCP

    American Society for Clinical Pathology
  • ASM

    American Society for Microbiology
  • The Medical Library®

    Project of

Connect With Us

Contact Us

All comments and suggestions about this web site are very welcome and a valuable source of information for us. Thanks!

Tel: +(92) 302 970 8985-6

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Our Sponsors

The Physio

By using you agree to our use of cookies to enhance your experience on this website.