Interstitial fluid

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Interstitial fluid (or tissue fluid, or intercellular fluid) is a solution which bathes and surrounds the cells of multicellular animals. It is the main component of the extracellular fluid, which also includes plasma and transcellular fluid.

On average, a person has about 11 litres (2.4 imperial gallons) of interstitial fluid providing the cells of the body with nutrients and a means of waste removal.

Production and Removal

Plasma and interstitial fluid are very similar. Plasma, the major component in blood, communicates freely with interstitial fluid through pores and intercellular clefts in capillary endothelium.

Formation of tissue fluid

Hydrostatic pressure is generated by the pumping force of the heart. It pushes water out of the capillaries.

The water potential is created due to the inability of large solutes to pass through the capillary walls. This buildup of solutes induces osmosis. The water passes from a high concentration (of water) to a low concentration in an attempt to reach an equilibrium. This draws water back into the vessels. Because the blood in the capillaries is constantly flowing, equilibrium is never reached.

The balance between the two forces is different at different points in the capillaries. At the arterial end of the vessel, the hydrostatic pressure is greater than the osmotic pressure, so the net movement (see net flux) favors water and other solutes being passed into the tissue fluid. At the venous end, the osmotic pressure is greater, so the net movement favours substances being passed back into the capillary. This difference is created by the direction of the flow of blood and the imbalance in solutes created by the net movement of water favoring the tissue fluid.

Removal of tissue fluid

To prevent a build-up of tissue fluid surrounding the cells in the tissue, the lymphatic system plays a part in the transport of tissue fluid. Tissue fluid can pass into the surrounding lymph vessels, and eventually ends up rejoining the blood.

Sometimes the removal of tissue fluid does not function correctly, and there is a build-up. This causes swelling, and can often be seen around the feet and ankles, for example Elephantiasis. The position of swelling is due to the effects of gravity.


Interstitial fluid consists of a water solvent containing amino acids, sugars, fatty acids, coenzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, salts, as well as waste products from the cells.

The composition of tissue fluid depends upon the exchanges between the cells in the tissue and the blood. This means that tissue fluid has a different composition in different tissues and in different areas of the body.

Not all of the contents of the blood pass into the tissue, which means that tissue fluid and blood are not the same. Red blood cells, platelets and plasma proteins cannot pass through the walls of the capillaries. The resulting mixture that does pass through is essentially blood plasma without the plasma proteins. Tissue fluid also contains some types of white blood cell, which help combat infection.

Lymph is considered a part of the interstitial fluid. The lymphatic system returns protein and excess interstitial fluid to the circulation.

Physiological Function

Interstitial fluid bathes the cells of the tissues. This provides a means of delivering materials to the cells, intercellular communication, as well as removal of metabolic waste.

See also


Marieb, Elaine N. (2003). Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology (Seventh Edition ed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. ISBN 0-8053-5385-2.

External links

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