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Brain Res. 2011 Jun 7;1394:49-61. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2011.04.003. Epub 2011 Apr 13.

Effects of NMDA receptor modulators on a blood-brain barrier in vitro model.

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Department of Anaesthesia and Critical Care, University Hospital Würzburg, Oberdürrbacherstrasse 6, 97080 Würzburg, Germany.


Changes of the functionality of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) have been reported in the context of several brain related diseases such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease and stroke. Several publications indicated the presence and functionality of the NMDA receptor (NMDAR) at the brain endothelium and a possible involvement of the NMDAR in the above-mentioned diseases. Recently, it was shown that the application of the NMDAR antagonist MK801 can block several adverse effects at the BBB in vitro, but also that MK801 can significantly change the proteome of brain endothelial cells without simultaneous stimulation of NMDAR by glutamate. Based on these reports we investigated if NMDAR antagonists MK801 and D-APV can affect the intracellular calcium level (Ca²⁺i) of an in vitro BBB model based on human cell line ECV304 on their own and compared these results to effects mediated by NMDAR agonists glutamate and NMDA. Treatment of ECV304 cells for 30 min with glutamate resulted in no significant change of Ca²⁺i. On the contrary, application of NMDA and NMDAR antagonists D-APV and MK801 led to a significant and concentration dependent decrease of Ca²⁺i. Further studies revealed that glutamate was able to decrease the transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of the BBB in vitro model, whereas NMDA and D-APV were able to increase TEER. Analysis of the protein expression levels of tight junctional molecules ZO-1 and occludin showed a complex regulation after application of NMDAR modulators. In summary, it was shown that NMDAR antagonists can alter BBB key properties in vitro on their own. Moreover, although qPCR results confirmed the presence of NMDA receptor subunits NR1, NR2A, NR2B and NR2C, membrane binding studies failed to prove the typical plasma membrane localization and functionality in human BBB cell line ECV304.

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