7-9-2. Osmoregulation and Osmotic Balance
Osmosis is the diffusion of water across a membrane in response to
The body does not exist in isolation. There is a constant input of water and electrolytes into the system. While osmoregulation is achieved across membranes within the body, excess electrolytes and wastes are transported to the kidneys and excreted, helping to maintain osmotic balance.
Need for Osmoregulation
Biological systems constantly interact and exchange water and nutrients with the environment by way of consumption of food and water and through excretion in the form of sweat, urine, and feces. Without a mechanism to regulate osmotic pressure, or when a disease damages this mechanism, there is a tendency to accumulate toxic waste and water, which can have dire consequences.
Mammalian systems have evolved to regulate not only the overall osmotic pressure across membranes, but also specific concentrations of important electrolytes in the three major fluid compartments: blood plasma, extracellular fluid, and intracellular fluid. Since osmotic pressure is regulated by the movement of water across membranes, the volume of the fluid compartments can also change temporarily. Because blood plasma is one of the fluid components, osmotic pressures have a direct bearing on blood pressure.
Transport of Electrolytes across Cell Membranes
Electrolytes, such as sodium chloride, ionize in water, meaning that they dissociate into their component ions. In water, sodium chloride (NaCl), dissociates into the sodium ion (Na+) and the chloride ion (Cl–). The most important ions, whose concentrations are very closely regulated in body fluids, are the cations sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca+2), magnesium (Mg+2), and the anions chloride (Cl-), carbonate (CO3-2), bicarbonate (HCO3-), and phosphate(PO3-). Electrolytes are lost from the body during urination and perspiration. For this reason, athletes are encouraged to replace electrolytes and fluids during periods of increased activity and perspiration.
Osmotic pressure is influenced by the concentration of solutes in a solution. It is directly proportional to the number of solute atoms or molecules and not dependent on the size of the solute molecules. Because electrolytes dissociate into their component ions, they, in essence, add more solute particles into the solution and have a greater effect on osmotic pressure, per mass than compounds that do not dissociate in water, such as glucose.
Water can pass through membranes by passive diffusion. If electrolyte ions could passively diffuse across membranes, it would be impossible to maintain specific concentrations of ions in each fluid compartment therefore they require special mechanisms to cross the semi-permeable membranes in the body. This movement can be accomplished by facilitated diffusion and active transport. Facilitated diffusion requires protein-based channels for moving the solute. Active transport requires energy in the form of ATP conversion, carrier proteins, or pumps in order to move ions against the concentration gradient.
Concept of Osmolality and Milliequivalent
In order to calculate osmotic pressure, it is necessary to understand how solute concentrations are measured. The unit for measuring solutes is the
Thus, for ions that have a charge of one, one milliequivalent is equal to one millimole. For ions that have a charge of two (like calcium), one milliequivalent is equal to 0.5 millimoles. Another unit for the expression of electrolyte concentration is the milliosmole (mOsm), which is the number of milliequivalents of solute per kilogram of solvent. Body fluids are usually maintained within the range of 280 to 300 mOsm.
Osmoregulators and Osmoconformers
Persons lost at sea without any fresh water to drink are at risk of severe dehydration because the human body cannot adapt to drinking seawater, which is hypertonic in comparison to body fluids. Organisms such as goldfish that can tolerate only a relatively narrow range of salinity are referred to as stenohaline. About 90 percent of all bony fish are restricted to either freshwater or seawater. They are incapable of osmotic regulation in the opposite environment. It is possible, however, for a few fishes like salmon to spend part of their life in fresh water and part in sea water. Organisms like the salmon and molly that can tolerate a relatively wide range of salinity are referred to as euryhaline organisms. This is possible because some fish have evolved
Dialysis is a medical process of removing wastes and excess water from the blood by diffusion and ultrafiltration. When kidney function fails, dialysis must be done to artificially rid the body of wastes. This is a vital process to keep patients alive. In some cases, the patients undergo artificial dialysis until they are eligible for a kidney transplant. In others who are not candidates for kidney transplants, dialysis is a life-long necessity.
Dialysis technicians typically work in hospitals and clinics. While some roles in this field include equipment development and maintenance, most dialysis technicians work in direct patient care. Their on-the-job duties, which typically occur under the direct supervision of a registered nurse, focus on providing dialysis treatments. This can include reviewing patient history and current condition, assessing and responding to patient needs before and during treatment, and monitoring the dialysis process. Treatment may include taking and reporting a patient’s vital signs and preparing solutions and equipment to ensure accurate and sterile procedures.
Solute concentrations across a semi-permeable membranes influence the movement of water and solutes across the membrane. It is the number of solute molecules and not the molecular size that is important in osmosis. Osmoregulation and osmotic balance are important bodily functions, resulting in water and salt balance. Not all solutes can pass through a semi-permeable membrane. Osmosis is the movement of water across the membrane. Osmosis occurs to equalize the number of solute molecules across a semi-permeable membrane by the movement of water to the side of higher solute concentration. Facilitated diffusion utilizes protein channels to move solute molecules from areas of higher to lower concentration while active transport mechanisms are required to move solutes against concentration gradients. Osmolarity is measured in units of milliequivalents or milliosmoles, both of which take into consideration the number of solute particles and the charge on them. Fish that live in fresh water or saltwater adapt by being osmoregulators or osmoconformers.
When a dehydrated human patient needs to be given fluids intravenously, he or she is given:
The sodium ion is at the highest concentration in:
Cells in a hypertonic solution tend to:
Why is excretion important in order to achieve osmotic balance?
Excretion allows an organism to rid itself of waste molecules that could be toxic if allowed to accumulate. It also allows the organism to keep the amount of water and dissolved solutes in balance.
Why do electrolyte ions move across membranes by active transport?
Electrolyte ions often require special mechanisms to cross the semi-permeable membranes in the body. Active transport is the movement against a concentration gradient.