A balanced view of the cerebrospinal fluid composition and functions: Focus on adult humans

Exp Neurol. 2015 Nov:273:57-68. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2015.07.027. Epub 2015 Aug 4.


In this review, a companion piece to our recent examination of choroid plexus (CP), the organ that secretes the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), we focus on recent information in the context of reliable older data concerning the composition and functions of adult human CSF. To accomplish this, we define CSF, examine the methodology employed in studying the CSF focusing on ideal or near ideal experiments and discuss the pros and cons of several widely used analogical descriptions of the CSF including: the CSF as the "third circulation," the CSF as a "nourishing liquor," the similarities of the CSF/choroid plexus to the glomerular filtrate/kidney and finally the CSF circulation as part of the "glymphatic system." We also consider the close interrelationship between the CSF and extracellular space of brain through gap junctions and the paucity of data suggesting that the cerebral capillaries secrete a CSF-like fluid. Recently human CSF has been shown to be in dynamic flux with heart-beat, posture and especially respiration. Functionally, the CSF provides buoyancy, nourishment (e.g., vitamins) and endogenous waste product removal for the brain by bulk flow into the venous (arachnoid villi and nerve roots) and lymphatic (nasal) systems, and by carrier-mediated reabsorptive transport systems in CP. The CSF also presents many exogenous compounds to CP for metabolism or removal, indirectly cleansing the extracellular space of brain (e.g., of xenobiotics like penicillin). The CSF also carries hormones (e.g., leptin) from blood via CP or synthesized in CP (e.g., IGF-2) to the brain. In summary the CP/CSF, the third circulation, performs many functions comparable to the kidney including nourishing the brain and contributing to a stable internal milieu for the brain. These tasks are essential to normal adult brain functioning.

Keywords: Blood–CSF barrier; Blood–brain barrier; Brain extracellular space; CSF circulation; CSF streaming; Cerebrospinal fluid peptides; Choroidal reabsorptive transport; Glia; Glymphatic system; Hydrocephalus; Immunomodulation; Neurogenesis; Primary ciliary dyskinesia; Trans-ependymal exchange; Trans-pial exchange; Water movement.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / metabolism*
  • Choroid Plexus / physiology*
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Humans