Two types of cells can be recognized on the luminal side of the glomerular basement membrane: the superficial endothelial cells which directly line the lumen and are comparable to endothelia lining the capillaries of other tissues, and the deep cells, ordinarily not in contact with the lumen, which are distinguished by their long cytoplasmic arms extending for some distance in several directions along the capillary wall, numerous spinous processes, and occasional intraluminal pseudopodia. Experiments carried out with electron-opaque tracers indicated that a functional distinction, based on extent of phagocytosis, can be made between the superficial and deep cells, thus supporting the existence of a distinctive "third" cell (in addition to endothelium and epithelium) in the renal glomerulus.
Ferritin, colloidal gold, or thorotrast was administered intravenously to normal and, in the case of ferritin, to nephrotic rats. Kidney tissue was fixed at selected intervals from 1 hour to 10 days after the injection and studied by electron microscopy. Within 1 to 4 hours after tracer administration, the particles which did not traverse the glomerular capillary wall gradually accumulated in the less compact, inner strata of the basement membrane and the large spongy areas of axial regions. After 1 day the concentration of circulating tracer declined and the peripheral areas of the capillaries became relatively free of particles while large accumulations developed in the axial regions. During this period increasing quantities of ferritin were taken up by the deep cells and were found within large and small sized invaginations of their cell membrane or concentrated within cytoplasmic vesicles, vacuoles, multivesicular and dense bodies. At the same time the deep cells showed increased numbers of intraluminal pseudopodia. Within 2 to 4 days the deposits in the spongy areas were cleared and concomitantly increased quantities of tracer appeared in the deep cells within dense cytoplasmic bodies, some of which were more compact than before. When ferritin was given to nephrotic animals the sequence of events was generally the same except that the ferritin deposits at any given period were more massive, their incorporation into the deep cells occurred primarily by means of large pockets 1 to 2 µ in diameter and their clearance from the spongy areas was slower. In normal as well as in nephrotic animals, the phagocytic activity of the superficial endothelium was negligible when compared to that of the deep cells.