Parasynaptic communication, also termed volume transmission, has been suggested as an important means to mediate information transfer within the central nervous system. The purpose of the present study was to visualize by autoradiography the available channels for fluid movement within the extracellular space following injection of the inert extracellular marker [14C]inulin into the lateral ventricle or cisterna magna. Bolus injections of 5 microl of 1 microCi of [14C]inulin were made in awake rats via chronically implanted cannulae. After survival times ranging from 5 min to 4 h, brains were processed for in vivo autoradiography. At 5 min the tracer distributed throughout the ventricles, subarachnoid spaces and cisterns "downstream" of the injection sites. Penetration into the brain from these sites was complex with preferential entry along the ventral side of the brain, especially into the hypothalamus and brainstem. By 4 h virtually the entire brain was labeled irrespective of the site of tracer application. Sustained tracer entry from subarachnoid spaces suggests that some areas act as depots to trap circulating material. This mechanism may contribute to the pattern of deep penetration at later time-points. The spatial and temporal characteristics of fluid movement throughout the brain are instructive in the interpretation of many experimental procedures involving injection of molecules into the cerebrospinal fluid.