Nephrotoxic injury is damage to one or both of the kidneys that results from exposure to a toxic material, usually through ingestion.
The kidneys are the primary organs of the urinary system, which purifies the blood by removing wastes from it and excreting them from the body in urine. Every day, the kidneys filter about 45 gal (180 l) of blood, about four times as much as the amount that passes through any other organ. Because of this high volume, the kidneys are more often exposed to toxic substances in the blood and are very vulnerable to injury from those sources.
Each kidney contains over one million structures called nephrons. Each nephron consists of two parts: the renal corpuscle and the renal tubule. The renal corpuscle is where the blood is filtered. It is made up of a network of capillaries (the glomerulus) and the structure that surrounds these capillaries (Bowman's capsule). Blood flows into the glomerulus, where the liquid part of the blood (plasma) passes through the walls of the capillaries and into Bowman's capsule (blood cells and some proteins are too big to pass through and therefore remain in the blood vessels). The plasma, now called filtrate, contains substances that the body needs, such as water, glucose, and other nutrients, as well as wastes, excess salts, and excess water. When the filtrate moves from Bowman's capsule into the renal tubules, about 99% of it is taken back up as the action of the tubules allows beneficial substances to be reabsorbed into the blood stream. The remaining filtrate is then passed to the bladder as urine.
When the kidneys are exposed to a toxic agent, either accidentally or intentionally (as in a suicide attempt), damage can occur in a number of different ways, depending upon the agent. One toxin may directly affect the glomerulus or the renal tubules, causing the cells of these structures to die. Another toxin may create other substances or conditions that result in the same cell death. Nephrotoxic injury can lead to acute renal failure, in which the kidneys suddenly lose their ability to function, or chronic renal failure, in which kidney function slowly deteriorates. If unchecked, renal failure can result in death.
Bridget Travers, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,