Lymphatic drainage system of the brain: A novel target for intervention of neurological diseases

Prog Neurobiol. Apr-May 2018;163-164:118-143. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2017.08.007. Epub 2017 Sep 10.


The belief that the vertebrate brain functions normally without classical lymphatic drainage vessels has been held for many decades. On the contrary, new findings show that functional lymphatic drainage does exist in the brain. The brain lymphatic drainage system is composed of basement membrane-based perivascular pathway, a brain-wide glymphatic pathway, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) drainage routes including sinus-associated meningeal lymphatic vessels and olfactory/cervical lymphatic routes. The brain lymphatic systems function physiological as a route of drainage for interstitial fluid (ISF) from brain parenchyma to nearby lymph nodes. Brain lymphatic drainage helps maintain water and ion balance of the ISF, waste clearance, and reabsorption of macromolecular solutes. A second physiological function includes communication with the immune system modulating immune surveillance and responses of the brain. These physiological functions are influenced by aging, genetic phenotypes, sleep-wake cycle, and body posture. The impairment and dysfunction of the brain lymphatic system has crucial roles in age-related changes of brain function and the pathogenesis of neurovascular, neurodegenerative, and neuroinflammatory diseases, as well as brain injury and tumors. In this review, we summarize the key component elements (regions, cells, and water transporters) of the brain lymphatic system and their regulators as potential therapeutic targets in the treatment of neurologic diseases and their resulting complications. Finally, we highlight the clinical importance of ependymal route-based targeted gene therapy and intranasal drug administration in the brain by taking advantage of the unique role played by brain lymphatic pathways in the regulation of CSF flow and ISF/CSF exchange.

Keywords: Brain lymphatic drainage; Cerebrospinal fluid; Glymphatic pathway; Interstitial fluid; Meningeal lymphatic vessel; Neurological disease; Olfactory/cervical lymphatic route; Perivascular pathway.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic System / anatomy & histology
  • Lymphatic System / physiology*
  • Lymphatic System / physiopathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*