5 years ago

Brain Extracellular Space: The Final Frontier of Neuroscience

Brain Extracellular Space: The Final Frontier of Neuroscience
Charles Nicholson, Sabina Hrabětová


Brain extracellular space is the narrow microenvironment that surrounds every cell of the central nervous system. It contains a solution that closely resembles cerebrospinal fluid with the addition of extracellular matrix molecules. The space provides a reservoir for ions essential to the electrical activity of neurons and forms an intercellular chemical communication channel. Attempts to reveal the size and structure of the extracellular space using electron microscopy have had limited success; however, a biophysical approach based on diffusion of selected probe molecules has proved useful. A point-source paradigm, realized in the real-time iontophoresis method using tetramethylammonium, as well as earlier radiotracer methods, have shown that the extracellular space occupies ∼20% of brain tissue and small molecules have an effective diffusion coefficient that is two-fifths that in a free solution. Monte Carlo modeling indicates that geometrical constraints, including dead-space microdomains, contribute to the hindrance to diffusion. Imaging the spread of macromolecules shows them increasingly hindered as a function of size and suggests that the gaps between cells are predominantly ∼40 nm with wider local expansions that may represent dead-spaces. Diffusion measurements also characterize interactions of ions and proteins with the chondroitin and heparan sulfate components of the extracellular matrix; however, the many roles of the matrix are only starting to become apparent. The existence and magnitude of bulk flow and the so-called glymphatic system are topics of current interest and controversy. The extracellular space is an exciting area for research that will be propelled by emerging technologies.

Publisher URL: http://www.cell.com/biophysj/fulltext/S0006-3495(17)30702-6

DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2017.06.052

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