Clearance of brain edema and macromolecules through the cortical extracellular space

J Neurosurg. 1992 Sep;77(3):387-96. doi: 10.3171/jns.1992.77.3.0387.


The transit routes of fluid and particulate matter through brain tissue remain unclear. The object of this study was to examine the movement of macromolecules through brain tissue to further clarify the clearance pathways of edema proteins as they migrate toward the cortex. For this purpose, albumin solution (20 microliters rat albumin diluted to 65 mg/ml with mock cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)) was intracerebrally infused into the caudate putamen, and the migration through brain tissue as well as through the ultrastructure of the cortical surfaces was explored using an immunocytochemical technique. The authors observed immunoreactive product on the glial limitans and pial lining as well as in the extracellular space of the cortical neuropil at 24 hours postinfusion, confirming that the protein had reached the cortical surface. To confirm the efflux of macromolecules into the subarachnoid CSF, 71,200 D fluorescein isothiocyanate-dextran (FITC-dextran 71,200) was infused; cortical surfaces of brains removed en bloc as well as coronal sections were macroscopically observed under ultraviolet illumination at 15 minutes and 24 hours postinfusion. It was observed that infused FITC-dextran 71,200 mainly localized in the cortical white matter and caudate putamen of the infusion site at 15 minutes postinfusion and by 24 hours was distributed in the entire cortex of the infused hemisphere. However, the dynamics of lower-molecular-weight substances was completely different. The spatial distribution of FITC-dextran 4400 diverged upward toward the cortical surface and spread more extensively than FITC-dextran 71,200. These observations were consistent with a diffusion process as the spread of the tracer was dependent upon molecular size. These studies provide compelling evidence that a process other than bulk flow was involved in the spread of macromolecules through the extracellular space of the normal cortical neuropil to sink into the subarachnoid space. It was concluded that the CSF pathway via the extracellular space of the cortical neuropil is a primary route for clearance of extracellular edema proteins to the subarachnoid space and that diffusion is involved in this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Albumins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain Edema / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Brain Edema / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Dextrans / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Rats, Inbred WF


  • Albumins
  • Dextrans
  • fluorescein isothiocyanate dextran
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate