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Mol Pharmacol. 2007 Mar;71(3):667-75. Epub 2006 Nov 28.

Tumor necrosis factor alpha and endothelin-1 increase P-glycoprotein expression and transport activity at the blood-brain barrier.

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  • 1Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.


The ATP-driven drug efflux pump, P-glycoprotein, is a critical and selective element of the blood-brain barrier and a primary impediment to pharmacotherapy of central nervous system (CNS) disorders. Thus, an understanding of how P-glycoprotein function is regulated has the potential to improve CNS therapy. We recently demonstrated rapid (minutes) and reversible inactivation of P-glycoprotein in rat brain capillaries signaled through tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and endothelin-1 (ET-1), components of the brain's innate immune response. In this study, we examined the longer-term consequences of continuous exposure of rat brain capillaries to low levels of TNF-alpha and ET-1. Exposing brain capillaries to TNF-alpha or ET-1 caused a rapid decrease in P-glycoprotein transport activity with no change in transporter protein expression. This was followed by a 2- to 3-h plateau at the low activity level and then by a sharp increase in both transport activity and protein expression. After 6 h, transport activity and transporter protein expression was double that of control samples. TNF-alpha signaled through TNF-R1, which in turn caused ET release and action through ETA and ETB receptors, nitric-oxide synthase, protein kinase C and nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) and finally increased P-glycoprotein expression and transport activity. Assuming similar effects occur in vivo, the present results imply a tightening of the selective blood-brain barrier with chronic inflammation and thus reduced efficacy of CNS-acting drugs that are P-glycoprotein substrates. Moreover, involvement of NF-kappaB raises the possibility that other effectors acting through this transcription factor may have similar effects on this key blood-brain barrier transporter.

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