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Mol Neurobiol. 2012 Apr;45(2):327-47. doi: 10.1007/s12035-012-8244-2. Epub 2012 Feb 28.

Neurovascular unit: a focus on pericytes.

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Research Institute for Medicines and Pharmaceutical Sciences (iMed.UL), Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lisbon, Av. Prof. Gama Pinto 1649-003, Lisbon, Portugal.


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a highly specialized system that controls the exchanges between the blood and the central nervous system (CNS). This barrier shields the CNS from toxic substances in the blood and provides nutrients to CNS, thus playing an essential role in the maintenance of homeostasis. The anatomical basis of the BBB is formed by the endothelial cells of brain microvasculature, with elaborated tight and adherens junctions, which together with pericytes, the basement membrane, and astrocytes, as well as neurons, microglia and oligodendrocytes form the neurovascular unit. The interaction between all these components guarantees a proper environment for neural function and a restricted permeability and transport. Pericytes were initially reported by Rouget in 1873 and since then they have been recognized as an important component of the BBB, despite the difficulty of their identification. Diverse functions have been assigned to pericytes, including a role in BBB properties, hemostasis, and angiogenesis, as well as a contractile, immune, and phagocytic function. These cells are also seen like multipotent cells and so with a great potential for therapy. Here, we review the neurovascular unit composition and the interplay between the diverse components, addressing pericytes with a particular detail.

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