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Brain Res. 1984 Dec 24;324(2):313-22.

Isolated rat brain capillaries possess intact, structurally complex, interendothelial tight junctions; freeze-fracture verification of tight junction integrity.


Populations of isolated brain capillaries have been proposed as useful models for in vitro studies of the blood-brain barrier. Preliminary investigations of barrier properties using such preparations of brain microvessels have suggested that the tight interendothelial junctions (zonulae occludentes) are intact and retain the impermeability to the protein tracer horseradish peroxidase, exhibited by them in vivo. The endothelial junctions of isolated capillaries are therefore assumed to be functionally "tight' in vitro. In order to determine the precise structural organization of these occluding junctions, including an estimate of their tightness (complexity), and to demonstrate a method for simple but precise assessment of junctional integrity, pellets of isolated rat brain capillaries were freeze-fractured and then replicated with platinum and carbon. The freeze-fracture images of interendothelial zonulae occludentes revealed complex arrays of intramembrane ridges and grooves characteristic of tight junctions. Longitudinal fractures of the cellular lining of capillaries exposed vast expanses of interendothelial plasma membrane interfaces and the junctional complexes situated between the cells. From such arrays, the elaborate and complex architecture of the zonulae occludentes could be readily appreciated. Situated on the PF fracture faces are 6-8 parallel ridges which display a high degree of anastomosing between adjacent strands. The EF fracture face contains grooves complementary to the PF face ridges. The zonulae occludentes of these capillary endothelial cells are similar in complexity to those reported in the literature for reptilian brain capillaries and therefore can be presumed "very tight'. This study demonstrates that freeze-fracture of pellets of brain capillaries alleviates sampling problems inherent in whole tissue preparations and, in addition, demonstrates the usefulness of freeze-fracture as a tool to monitor junction structure during in vitro investigation of the blood-brain barrier.

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