U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

A Closer Look at Kidney Structure

​Researchers have unveiled a much closer, more detailed picture of the microscopic details of cells in the kidney.

Helium ion scanning microscopy is a new imaging technique that has been used to produce highly detailed pictures of inorganic materials. Now, this approach has been applied to biological specimens. In a recent publication, scientists presented images of multiple cell types and structures within the rat kidney. Kidney elements that were examined included the glomerulus and the branching appendages of podocytes, where blood is iltered; the proximal convoluted tubule and its brush border; and the collecting duct, which resorbs water and regulates blood pH.

Images generated through helium ion scanning microscopy are far more detailed than those produced by scanning electron microscopy; the images in this study were captured at a resolution of approximately 1.4 nanometers (a nanometer is one-one billionth of a meter; for reference, the width of a human hair is approximately 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers).

This technological breakthrough in ine-scale visualization of cellular structures promises to allow more detailed studies of the cellular structure within tissues and facilitate scientists’ understanding of cell architecture, organization, and the physical and spatial relationships that are involved in organ function.

Rice WL, Van Hoek AN, Păunescu TG, et al. High resolution
helium ion scanning microscopy of the rat kidney. PLoS ONE
8: e57051, 2013.