It has been proposed that in the absence of blood supply, the ocular lens operates an internal microcirculation system that delivers nutrients to internalized fiber cells faster and more efficiently than would occur by passive diffusion alone. To visualize the extracellular space solute fluxes potentially generated by this system, bovine lenses were organ cultured in artificial aqueous humor (AAH) for 4 h in the presence or absence of two gadolinium-based contrast agents, ionic Gd(3+), or a chelated form of Gd(3+), Gd-diethylenetriamine penta-acetic acid (Gd-DTPA; mol mass = 590 Da). Contrast reagent penetration into the lens core was monitored in real time using inversion recovery-spin echo (IR-SE) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), while steady-state accumulation of [Gd-DTPA](-2) was also determined by calculating T1 values. After incubation, lenses were fixed and cryosectioned, and sections were labeled with the membrane marker wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). Sections were imaged by confocal microscopy using standard and reflectance imaging modalities to visualize the fluorescent WGA label and gadolinium reagents, respectively. Real-time IR-SE MRI showed rapid penetration of Gd(3+) into the outer cortex of the lens and a subsequent bloom of signal in the core. These two areas of signal were separated by an area in the inner cortex that limited entry of Gd(3+). Similar results were obtained for Gd-DTPA, but the penetration of the larger negatively charged molecule into the core could only be detected by calculating T1 values. The presence of Gd-DTPA in the extracellular space of the outer cortex and core, but its apparent absence from the inner cortex was confirmed using reflectance imaging of equatorial sections. In axial sections, Gd-DTPA was associated with the sutures, suggesting these structures provide a pathway from the surface, across the inner cortex barrier to the lens core. Our studies have revealed inner and outer boundaries of a zone within which a narrowing of the extracellular space restricts solute diffusion and acts to direct fluxes into the lens core via the sutures.