Microvascular fluid exchange and the revised Starling principle

Cardiovascular Research
J Rodney Levick, C Charles Michel


Microvascular fluid exchange (flow J(v)) underlies plasma/interstitial fluid (ISF) balance and oedematous swelling. The traditional form of Starling's principle has to be modified in light of insights into the role of ISF pressures and the recognition of the glycocalyx as the semipermeable layer of endothelium. Sum-of-forces evidence and direct observations show that microvascular absorption is transient in most tissues; slight filtration prevails in the steady state, even in venules. This is due in part to the inverse relation between filtration rate and ISF plasma protein concentration; ISF colloid osmotic pressure (COP) rises as J(v) falls. In some specialized regions (e.g. kidney, intestinal mucosa), fluid absorption is sustained by local epithelial secretions, which flush interstitial plasma proteins into the lymphatic system. The low rate of filtration and lymph formation in most tissues can be explained by standing plasma protein gradients within the intercellular cleft of continuous capillaries (glycocalyx model) and around fenestrations. Narrow breaks in the junctional strands of the cleft create high local outward fluid velocities, which cause a disequilibrium between the subglycocalyx space COP and ISF COP. Recent ex...Continue Reading


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