Meninges that surround the CNS consist of an outer fibrous sheet of dura mater (pachymeninx) that is also the inner periosteum of the skull. Underlying the dura are the arachnoid and pia mater (leptomeninges) that form the boundaries of the subarachnoid space. In this review we (1) examine the development of leptomeninges and their role as barriers and facilitators in the foetal CNS. There are two separate CSF systems during early foetal life, inner CSF in the ventricles and outer CSF in the subarachnoid space. As the foramina of Magendi and Luschka develop, one continuous CSF system evolves. Due to the lack of arachnoid granulations during foetal life, it is most likely that CSF is eliminated by lymphatic drainage pathways passing through the cribriform plate and nasal submucosa. (2) We then review the fine structure of the adult human and rodent leptomeninges to establish their roles as barriers and facilitators for the movement of fluid, cells and pathogens. Leptomeningeal cells line CSF spaces, including arachnoid granulations and lymphatic drainage pathways, and separate elements of extracellular matrix from the CSF. The leptomeningeal lining facilitates the traffic of inflammatory cells within CSF but also allows attachment of bacteria such as Neisseria meningitidis and of tumour cells as CSF metastases. Single layers of leptomeningeal cells extend into the brain closely associated with the walls of arteries so that there are no perivascular spaces around arteries in the cerebral cortex. Perivascular spaces surrounding arteries in the white matter and basal ganglia relate to their two encompassing layers of leptomeninges. (3) Finally we examine the roles of ligands expressed by leptomeningeal cells for the attachment of inflammatory cells, bacteria and tumour cells as understanding these roles may aid the design of therapeutic strategies to manage developmental, autoimmune, infectious and neoplastic diseases relating to the CSF, the leptomeninges and the associated CNS.
Keywords: Attachment of Neisseria meningitidis, inflammatory cells and tumour cells to leptomeninges; Barriers and facilitators; CSF; Developing human and rat brain; Leptomeninges; Lymphatic drainage of the CNS; Perivascular compartments and spaces.