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Analysis of lumbar cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) plays a major role in the investigation of central nervous system disease, but how well do the changes in the CSF reflect pathology within the brain and spinal cord parenchyma? Both Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) and Alzheimer's disease (AD) are characterized by the deposition of insoluble beta-pleated sheet peptides [prion protein (PrP) and beta-amyloid (Abeta), respectively] in the extracellular spaces of grey matter in the brain, but there is discordance in both diseases between the peptide levels in the brain and in the CSF. Experimental studies using tracers have shown that interstitial fluid (ISF) drains through very narrow intercellular spaces within grey matter into bulk flow perivascular channels that surround penetrating arteries. ISF then flows to the surface of the brain and joins CSF to drain to cervical lymph nodes. Such drainage of ISF and CSF to regional lymph nodes in the rat plays a significant role in B-cell and T-cell immune reactions within the brain. In man, the pia mater separates the periarterial ISF drainage pathways from the CSF in the subarachnoid space. The almost complete lack of insoluble protease-resistant PrP entering the CSF from the brain in patients with CJD, reported by Wong et al. in this issue of the Journal of Pathology, illustrates the limitations of ISF drainage pathways for the elimination of insoluble peptides from brain tissue. Insoluble Abeta accumulates in the extracellular spaces as plaques in AD and in periarterial ISF drainage pathways as cerebral amyloid angiopathy. Soluble Abeta appears to become entrapped by the insoluble Abeta in the ISF drainage pathways; thus, as the level of soluble Abeta in the brain rises in AD, the level in the CSF falls. Thus, the changes in the CSF do not accurately reflect the accumulation of the abnormal peptides in the brain parenchyma in either CJD or AD. In both diseases, facilitation of ISF drainage and elimination of PrP and Abeta peptides from the extracellular spaces of the brain may lead to practical therapeutic strategies for these devastating disorders.

Original publication




Journal article


J pathol

Publication Date





1 - 3


Alzheimer Disease, Amyloid beta-Peptides, Biomarkers, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome, Humans, Prions