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Interstitial fluid (ISF) or tissue fluid is a solution that bathes and surrounds the tissue cells of multicellular animals. It is the main component of the extracellular fluid, whose other components are the blood plasma, lymph and transcellular fluid. The interstitial fluid is found in the spaces between cells or their "interstices" (hence the name).[1] On average, a person has about 10 litres (2.2 imperial gallons or ~2.4 US gal) of interstitial fluid (making up about 12 to 14% of the total body weight of a young man), providing the cells of the body with nutrients and a means of waste removal.


Production and removalEdit

Plasma and interstitial fluid are very similar. This similarity exists because water, ions, and small solutes are continuously exchanged between plasma and interstitial fluids across the walls of capillaries. Plasma, the major component in blood, communicates freely with interstitial fluid through pores and capillary clefts.


The interaction between the blood plasma, interstitial fluid, and lymph.[2]
A highly diagrammatic representation the movement of water out of capillaries into the interstitial space. The capillary wall is completely permeable to water, which is therefore forced out of the capillary into the tissue fluids by the pressure difference between the inside and outside of the capillary. The capillary is depicted as ballooning out as a result of the blood pressure inside the capillary compared to that outside the capillary. Such ballooning out does, in fact, not occur, but is intended to diagrammatically emphasize the force which causes water to leave the capillaries in tissues.
Since the capillary wall is also completely permeable to electrolytes and small organic molecules such as glucose and small proteins such as insulin, these substances will equilibrate across the capillary wall. The concentrations of these small molecule substances will therefore be the same inside and outside the capillary wall and have no osmotic effects that can influence the movement of water across the capillary membrane. To differentiate their potential osmotic effect from that depicted in the diagram below, their osmotic influence is referred to as the “crystalloid” osmotic effect (because these small molecules easily form crystals when taken out of solution).
In contrast to the movements of the small inorganic and organic molecules referred to in the diagram above the blood plasma proteins (of which albumin is the major contributor) cannot pass through the pores in the capillary membranes. They therefore remain within the confines of the capillary tube. When water and the “crystalloid” molecules move out of the capillary, the concentration of the these, so called ”oncotic” or "colloid" osmotic particles, stay behind in the capillary, causing a ”colloid” osmotic effect.[2] This will draw water back into the capillary.
The net effect of all the processes depicted, diagrammatically, above. Water is forced out of the capillary at the arteriolar end of the capillary, only to be re-absorbed at the venular end, where, in addition to the colloidal osmotic pressure being higher than at the arteriolar end, the blood pressure inside the capillary is lower than at the beginning of he capillary.[2][3] Only a minute fraction of the fluid that leaks out of the capillaries (over the whole body) is not reabsorbed. This excess water that accumulates in the tissues is collected by the lymph vessels and returned to the blood circulation into the left subclavian vein at the lower left hand side of the neck. Only between 2-4 liters of lymph accumulates in the tissues per day and is discharged back into the venous system in the neck.[2][3]

Interstitial fluid is formed by capillary filtration, and is taken away by the lymphatic vessels.[4]

The water potential is created due to the inability of certain blood proteins (mostly serum albumin) to pass through the walls of capillaries. The build-up of these proteins within the capillaries induces osmosis. The water passes from a high concentration (of water) outside of the vessels to a low concentration inside of the vessels, in an attempt to reach an equilibrium. The osmotic pressure drives water back into the vessels. Because the blood in the capillaries is constantly flowing, equilibrium is never reached.

The balance between the two forces differs at different points on the capillaries. At the arterial end of a 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 favors 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.


To prevent a build-up of tissue fluid surrounding the cells in the tissue, complementing the venous system is the lymphatic system, which plays a part in the transport of tissue fluid.[4] 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 can cause swelling, often around the feet and ankles, which is generally known as edema. The position of swelling is due to the effects of gravity.


Interstitial fluid, also called tissue fluid, consists of a water solvent containing sugars, salts, fatty acids, amino acids, coenzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, white blood cells and cell waste-products. This solution accounts for 26% of the water in the human body.[5]

The composition of interstitial fluid depends upon the exchanges between the cells in the biological 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 fluid, which means that tissue fluid and blood are not the same. Red blood cells and platelets cannot pass through the walls of the capillaries. The resulting mixture that does pass through is, in essence, blood plasma with lower concentration of plasma proteins. Tissue fluid also contains some types of white blood cell, which help combat infection.

Once the extracellular fluid collects into small vessels it is considered to be Lymph, and the vessels that carry it back to the blood are called the lymphatic vessels. The lymphatic system returns protein and excess interstitial fluid to the circulation.

The ionic composition of the interstitial fluid and blood plasma vary due to the Gibbs–Donnan effect. This causes a slight difference in the concentration of cations and anions between the two fluid compartments.

Physiological functionEdit

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.


  1. ^ Dorland's (2012). Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (32nd ed.). Elsevier. p. 951. ISBN 978-1-4160-6257-8. 
  2. ^ a b c d Guyton, Arthur; Hall, John (2006). "Chapter 16: The Microcirculation and the Lymphatic System". In Gruliow, Rebecca. Textbook of Medical Physiology (Book) (11th ed.). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Elsevier Inc. pp. 187–188. ISBN 0-7216-0240-1. 
  3. ^ a b Tortora, Gerard J.; Anagnostakos, Nicholas P. (1987). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology (Fifth ed.). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. pp. 40, 49–50, 61, 268–274, 449–453, 456, 494–496, 530–552, 693–700. ISBN 0-06-350729-3. 
  4. ^ a b Wiig, H; Swartz, MA (July 2012). "Interstitial fluid and lymph formation and transport: physiological regulation and roles in inflammation and cancer". Physiological Reviews. 92 (3): 1005–60. doi:10.1152/physrev.00037.2011. PMID 22811424. 
  5. ^ Widmaier, Eric P., Hershel Raff, Kevin T. Strang, and Arthur J. Vander. "Body Fluid Compartments." Vander's Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2016. 400-401. Print.


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

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