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Acta Neuropathol. 2010 Dec;120(6):689-705. doi: 10.1007/s00401-010-0743-5. Epub 2010 Sep 10.

Sensory circumventricular organs in health and disease.

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Department of Pathology, Pentlands Science Park, Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland, UK.


Circumventricular organs (CVOs) are specialized brain structures located around the third and fourth ventricles. They differ from the rest of the brain parenchyma in that they are highly vascularised areas that lack a blood-brain barrier. These neurohaemal organs are classified as "sensory", when they contain neurons that can receive chemical inputs from the bloodstream. This review focuses on the sensory CVOs to describe their unique structure, and their functional roles in the maintenance of body fluid homeostasis and cardiovascular regulation, and in the generation of central acute immune and febrile responses. In doing so, the main neural connections to visceral regulatory centres such as the hypothalamus, the medulla oblongata and the endocrine hypothalamic-pituitary axis, as well as some of the relevant chemical substances involved, are described. The CVOs are vulnerable to circulating pathogens and can be portals for their entry in the brain. This review highlights recent investigations that show that the CVOs and related structures are involved in pathological conditions such as sepsis, stress, trypanosomiasis, autoimmune encephalitis, systemic amyloidosis and prion infections, while detailed information on their role in other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease or multiple sclerosis is lacking. It is concluded that studies of the CVOs and related structures may help in the early diagnosis and treatment of such disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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