Unveiling the Extracellular Space of the Brain: From Super-resolved Microstructure to In Vivo Function

J Neurosci. 2018 Oct 31;38(44):9355-9363. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1664-18.2018.


The extracellular space occupies approximately one-fifth of brain volume, molding a spider web of gaps filled with interstitial fluid and extracellular matrix where neurons and glial cells perform in concert. Yet, very little is known about the spatial organization and dynamics of the extracellular space, let alone its influence on brain function, owing to a lack of appropriate techniques (and a traditional bias toward the inside of cells, not the spaces in between). At the same time, it is clear that understanding fundamental brain functions, such as synaptic transmission, memory, sleep, and recovery from disease, calls for more focused research on the extracellular space of the brain. This review article highlights several key research areas, covering recent methodological and conceptual progress that illuminates this understudied, yet critically important, brain compartment, providing insights into the opportunities and challenges of this nascent field.

Keywords: SUSHI; carbon nanotubes; diffusion; extracellular matrix; extracellular space; super-resolution microscopy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / ultrastructure*
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods
  • Microscopy, Electron / trends*
  • Neuroglia / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / ultrastructure
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / ultrastructure