Gas Diffusion in the CNS

J Neurosci Res. 2018 Feb;96(2):207-218. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24077. Epub 2017 May 15.


Gases have been long known to have essential physiological functions in the CNS such as respiration or regulation of vascular tone. Since gases have been classically considered to freely diffuse, research in gas biology has so far focused on mechanisms of gas synthesis and gas reactivity, rather than gas diffusion and transport. However, the discovery of gas pores during the last two decades and the characterization of diverse diffusion patterns through different membranes has raised the possibility that modulation of gas diffusion is also a physiologically relevant parameter. Here we review the means of gas movement into and within the brain through "free" diffusion and gas pores, notably aquaporins, discussing the role that gas diffusion may play in the modulation of gas function. We highlight how diffusion is relevant to neuronal signaling, volume transmission, and cerebrovascular control in the case of NO, one of the most extensively studied gases. We point out how facilitated transport can be especially relevant for gases with low permeability in lipid membranes like NH3 and discuss the possible implications of NH3 -permeable channels in physiology and hyperammonemic encephalopathy. We identify novel research questions about how modulation of gas diffusion could intervene in CNS pathologies. This emerging area of research can provide novel and interesting insights in the field of gas biology.

Keywords: NH3, gas pores, aquaporins; NO; gas diffusion; volume transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Diffusion*
  • Gases / metabolism*
  • Humans


  • Gases