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Diffusion in the extracellular space in brain and tumors


Diffusion of solutes and macromolecules in the extracellular space (ECS) in brain is important for non-synaptic intercellular communication, extracellular ionic buffering, and delivery of drugs and metabolites. Diffusion in tumor ECS is important for delivery of anti-tumor drugs. The ECS in brain comprises ∼20% of brain parenchymal volume and contains cell-cell gaps down to ∼50 nm. We have developed fluorescence methods to quantify solute diffusion in the ECS, allowing measurements deep in solid tissues using microfiberoptics with micron tip size. Diffusion through the tortuous ECS in brain is generally slowed by ∼3-5-fold compared with that in water, with approximately half of the slowing due to tortuous ECS geometry and half due to the mildly viscous extracellular matrix (ECM). Mathematical modeling of slowed diffusion in an ECS with reasonable anatomical accuracy is in good agreement with experiment. In tumor tissue, diffusion of small macromolecules is only mildly slowed (<3-fold slower than in water) in superficial tumor, but is greatly slowed (>10-fold) at a depth of few millimeters as the tumor tissue becomes more compact. Slowing by ECM components such as collagen contribute to the slowed diffusion. Therefore, as found within cells, cellular crowding and highly tortuous transport can produce only minor slowing of diffusion in the ECS.

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