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Because it lacks a lymphatic circulation, the brain must clear extracellular proteins by an alternative mechanism. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) functions as a sink for brain extracellular solutes, but it is not clear how solutes from the brain interstitium move from the parenchyma to the CSF. We demonstrate that a substantial portion of subarachnoid CSF cycles through the brain interstitial space. On the basis of in vivo two-photon imaging of small fluorescent tracers, we showed that CSF enters the parenchyma along paravascular spaces that surround penetrating arteries and that brain interstitial fluid is cleared along paravenous drainage pathways. Animals lacking the water channel aquaporin-4 (AQP4) in astrocytes exhibit slowed CSF influx through this system and a ~70% reduction in interstitial solute clearance, suggesting that the bulk fluid flow between these anatomical influx and efflux routes is supported by astrocytic water transport. Fluorescent-tagged amyloid β, a peptide thought to be pathogenic in Alzheimer’s disease, was transported along this route, and deletion of the Aqp4 gene suppressed the clearance of soluble amyloid β, suggesting that this pathway may remove amyloid β from the central nervous system. Clearance through paravenous flow may also regulate extracellular levels of proteins involved with neurodegenerative conditions, its impairment perhaps contributing to the mis-accumulation of soluble proteins.
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