Standard micropuncture and microdissection techniques were used to examine the function and structure of nephrons in rats whose kidneys were made cystic by dietary exposure to diphenylamine. Heterogeneity characterized the lesion, with dilation and frank cyst formation occurring in 5-30% of nephrons. Elevated intraluminal hydrostatic pressures, occurring in the absence of increased glomerular filtration or decreased net water reabsorption, were recorded in dilated, but not in nondilated nephrons. Structural studies demonstrated communication of dilated nephrons with cysts, concretions of debris within tubular lumens, evidence of extrinsic pressure by cysts on adjacent tubules, and apparent luminal narrowing of some proximal tubules. These observations were used to explain prolonged loop of Henle transit times and occasional failure to detect [3H]inulin excretion after microperfusion into dilated tubules. It was concluded that the elevated hydrostatic pressures in the dilated nephrons of diphenylamine exposed kidneys were the consequence of variably severe and frequently incomplete tubular occlusion. These findings support the hypothesis that cyst formation is a consequence of partial obstruction and elevated intratubular pressure in this model and perhaps in other susceptible mammalian kidneys.
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