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J Neurosci. 2004 Sep 15;24(37):8049-56.

In vivo measurement of brain extracellular space diffusion by cortical surface photobleaching.

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Department of Medicine, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94143-0521, USA.


Molecular diffusion in the brain extracellular space (ECS) is an important determinant of neural function. We developed a brain surface photobleaching method to measure the diffusion of fluorescently labeled macromolecules in the ECS of the cerebral cortex. The ECS in mouse brain was labeled by exposure of the intact dura to fluorescein-dextrans (M(r) 4, 70, and 500 kDa). Fluorescein-dextran diffusion, detected by fluorescence recovery after laser-induced cortical photobleaching using confocal optics, was slowed approximately threefold in the brain ECS relative to solution. Cytotoxic brain edema (produced by water intoxication) or seizure activity (produced by convulsants) slowed diffusion by >10-fold and created dead-space microdomains in which free diffusion was prevented. The hindrance to diffusion was greater for the larger fluorescein-dextrans. Interestingly, slowed ECS diffusion preceded electroencephalographic seizure activity. In contrast to the slowed diffusion produced by brain edema and seizure activity, diffusion in the ECS was faster in mice lacking aquaporin-4 (AQP4), an astroglial water channel that facilitates fluid movement between cells and the ECS. Our results establish a minimally invasive method to quantify diffusion in the brain ECS in vivo, revealing stimulus-induced changes in molecular diffusion in the ECS with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. The in vivo mouse data provide evidence for: (1) dead-space ECS microdomains after brain swelling; (2) slowed molecular diffusion in the ECS as an early predictor of impending seizure activity; and (3) a novel role for AQP4 as a regulator of brain ECS.

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