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J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2006 Sep;1(3):223-36. Epub 2006 Jul 6.

Blood-brain barrier: structural components and function under physiologic and pathologic conditions.

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  • 1Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Disorders, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198-5215, USA.


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is the specialized system of brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMVEC) that shields the brain from toxic substances in the blood, supplies brain tissues with nutrients, and filters harmful compounds from the brain back to the bloodstream. The close interaction between BMVEC and other components of the neurovascular unit (astrocytes, pericytes, neurons, and basement membrane) ensures proper function of the central nervous system (CNS). Transport across the BBB is strictly limited through both physical (tight junctions) and metabolic barriers (enzymes, diverse transport systems). A functional polarity exists between the luminal and abluminal membrane surfaces of the BMVEC. As a result of restricted permeability, the BBB is a limiting factor for the delivery of therapeutic agents into the CNS. BBB breakdown or alterations in transport systems play an important role in the pathogenesis of many CNS diseases (HIV-1 encephalitis, Alzheimer's disease, ischemia, tumors, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease). Proinflammatory substances and specific disease-associated proteins often mediate such BBB dysfunction. Despite seemingly diverse underlying causes of BBB dysfunction, common intracellular pathways emerge for the regulation of the BBB structural and functional integrity. Better understanding of tight junction regulation and factors affecting transport systems will allow the development of therapeutics to improve the BBB function in health and disease.

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