Interstitial fluid and lymph formation and transport: physiological regulation and roles in inflammation and cancer

Physiol Rev. 2012 Jul;92(3):1005-60. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00037.2011.


The interstitium describes the fluid, proteins, solutes, and the extracellular matrix (ECM) that comprise the cellular microenvironment in tissues. Its alterations are fundamental to changes in cell function in inflammation, pathogenesis, and cancer. Interstitial fluid (IF) is created by transcapillary filtration and cleared by lymphatic vessels. Herein we discuss the biophysical, biomechanical, and functional implications of IF in normal and pathological tissue states from both fluid balance and cell function perspectives. We also discuss analysis methods to access IF, which enables quantification of the cellular microenvironment; such methods have demonstrated, for example, that there can be dramatic gradients from tissue to plasma during inflammation and that tumor IF is hypoxic and acidic compared with subcutaneous IF and plasma. Accumulated recent data show that IF and its convection through the interstitium and delivery to the lymph nodes have many and diverse biological effects, including in ECM reorganization, cell migration, and capillary morphogenesis as well as in immunity and peripheral tolerance. This review integrates the biophysical, biomechanical, and biological aspects of interstitial and lymph fluid and its transport in tissue physiology, pathophysiology, and immune regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Extracellular Fluid / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Lymph / metabolism*
  • Lymphatic System / metabolism*
  • Lymphatic System / pathology
  • Lymphatic System / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance