Endothelial cells that line the blood vessels of the mammalian central nervous system (CNS) form a unique, tight barrier that maintains the homeostasis necessary for neuronal and glial function, and protects the CNS from pathological agents and immune cell invasion.
Barrier properties of CNS endothelial cells (ECs) are mediated by three distinct cell biological mechanisms:
- extremely tight junctions that prevent diffusion of small molecules between endothelial cells (paracellular pathway);
- very few endocytotic vesicles (caveolae) that transcytose slowly and thereby reduce transport of large molecules across the brain endothelium (transcellular pathway); and
- transporters that shuttle only selected molecules between the blood and the brain.
Remarkably little is known about how the BBB breaks down in CNS diseases with impaired barrier function such as stroke, or autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Areas of Research
Current areas of research in the lab include: