Glymphatic-lymphatic coupling: assessment of the evidence from magnetic resonance imaging of humans

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2024 Mar 13;81(1):131. doi: 10.1007/s00018-024-05141-2.


The discoveries that cerebrospinal fluid participates in metabolic perivascular exchange with the brain and further drains solutes to meningeal lymphatic vessels have sparked a tremendous interest in translating these seminal findings from animals to humans. A potential two-way coupling between the brain extra-vascular compartment and the peripheral immune system has implications that exceed those concerning neurodegenerative diseases, but also imply that the central nervous system has pushed its immunological borders toward the periphery, where cross-talk mediated by cerebrospinal fluid may play a role in a range of neoplastic and immunological diseases. Due to its non-invasive approach, magnetic resonance imaging has typically been the preferred methodology in attempts to image the glymphatic system and meningeal lymphatics in humans. Even if flourishing, the research field is still in its cradle, and interpretations of imaging findings that topographically associate with reports from animals have yet seemed to downplay the presence of previously described anatomical constituents, particularly in the dura. In this brief review, we illuminate these challenges and assess the evidence for a glymphatic-lymphatic coupling. Finally, we provide a new perspective on how human brain and meningeal clearance function may possibly be measured in future.

Keywords: Brain clearance; Brain-immune cross-talk; Contrast media; Glymphatic system; Non-invasive imaging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Central Nervous System
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Vessels* / metabolism
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Meninges / physiology