Question 10(p.2)

Describe the formation, flow and absorption of cerebrospinal fluid

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College Answer

The main points expected for a pass were
• CSF is formed by ultra filtration and secretion
• CSF volumes and turnover
• Flow through the ventricles and subarachnoid spaces
• Absorption through the arachnoid villi
• Relationship between and absorption and pressure
This is not a question about intracranial pressure so no points were given for Munroe Kellie
doctrine etc, Also no points were given for the functions of CSF.
Diagrams need to have the axes labelled correctly.


  • Mechanism of formation: By highly regulated ultrafiltration and active secretion 
    • Ultrafiltrate of plasma is formed by the fenestrated choroidal capillaries
    • It collects in the choroid interstitial space
    • Ions are actively transported out of this ultrafiltarte, and into the CSF:
      • Sodium is actively secreted from the apical membrane (Na/K/ATPase)
      • Carbonic anhydrase also provides H+ to power Na/H+ exchange at the basal membrane
      • The sodium gradient created and maintained in this way is then used to co-transport HCO3- and CL-  into CSF
    • This creates an osmotic gradient which pulls water across the membrane through aquaporin channels
    • This process is disconnected from ultrafiltration, i.e. CSF production is constant and is not pressure-dependent (though at low CPP, <55 mmHg, CSF prodction decreases)
  • Circulation:
    • ​​​​​​​Out of the choroid plexus on the floor of the lateral ventricles
    • Through the foramen of Munro into the third ventricle
    • Through the Aqueduct of Sylvius, into the fourth ventricle
    • From the fourth ventricle, into the cisterna magna via the lateral foramina of Luschka and then up to the basilar cisterns around the pons, and then to the rest of the cortex
    • Or, from the fourth ventricle, via the medial foramen of Magendie, down to the spinal subarachnoid space
    • It is then reabsorbed from the subarachnoid space
    • The motor force driving this flow comes from:
      • Constant production at the choroid plexus
      • Arterial pulsation of the central nervous system structures
      • Venous pulsation of the CNS related to the respiratory cycle
      • Constant reabsorption by the arachnoid granulations
  • Reabsorption:
    • ​​​​​​​Reabsorbed at 25ml/hr (CSF secretion rate = reabsorption rate) into the dural venous blood
    • Main sites are arachnoid granulations
    • Driving force is hydrostatic gradient between CSF and venous blood
    • Thus, CSF reabsorption stops when CSF pressure is less than ~ 7 cm H2O


Sakka, Laurent, Guillaume Coll, and Jean Chazal. "Anatomy and physiology of cerebrospinal fluid." European annals of otorhinolaryngology, head and neck diseases 128.6 (2011): 309-316.

Segal, Malcolm B. "The choroid plexuses and the barriers between the blood and the cerebrospinal fluid." Cellular and molecular neurobiology 20.2 (2000): 183-196.

Brown, P. D., et al. "Molecular mechanisms of cerebrospinal fluid production." Neuroscience 129.4 (2004): 955-968.