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Chapter: Medical Physiology: Regulation of Acid-Base Balance

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Phosphate Buffer System

Although the phosphate buffer system is not impor-tant as an extracellular fluid buffer, it plays a major role in buffering renal tubular fluid and intracellular fluids.

Phosphate Buffer System

Although the phosphate buffer system is not impor-tant as an extracellular fluid buffer, it plays a major role in buffering renal tubular fluid and intracellular fluids.

The main elements of the phosphate buffer system are H2PO4 and HPO4=. When a strong acid such as HCl is added to a mixture of these two substances, the hydrogen is accepted by the base HPO4= and con-verted to H2PO4.

                   HCl + Na2HPO4 - - > NaH2PO4 + NaCl

The result of this reaction is that the strong acid, HCl, is replaced by an additional amount of a weak acid, NaH2PO4, and the decrease in pH is minimized.

When a strong base, such as NaOH, is added to the buffer system, the OH is buffered by the H2PO4 to form additional amounts of HPO4= + H2O.

NaOH + NaH2PO4 - - >  Na2HPO4 + H2O

In this case, a strong base, NaOH, is traded for a weak base, NaH2PO4, causing only a slight increase in pH.

The phosphate buffer system has a pK of 6.8, which is not far from the normal pH of 7.4 in the body fluids; this allows the system to operate near its maximum buffering power. However, its concentration in the extracellular fluid is low, only about 8 per cent of the concentration of the bicarbonate buffer. Therefore, the total buffering power of the phosphate system in the extracellular fluid is much less than that of the bicarbonate buffering system.

In contrast to its rather insignificant role as an extra-cellular buffer, the phosphate buffer is especiallyimportant in the tubular fluids of the kidneys, for tworeasons: (1) phosphate usually becomes greatly con-centrated in the tubules, thereby increasing the buffer-ing power of the phosphate system, and (2) the tubular fluid usually has a considerably lower pH than the extracellular fluid does, bringing the operating range of the buffer closer to the pK (6.8) of the system.

The phosphate buffer system is also important in buffering intracellular fluid because the concentrationof phosphate in this fluid is many times that in the extracellular fluid. Also, the pH of intracellular fluid is lower than that of extracellular fluid and therefore is usually closer to the pK of the phosphate buffer system compared with the extracellular fluid.


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