, Volume 314, Issue 1, pp 119-129

Development of the blood-brain barrier

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Abstract

The endothelial cells forming the blood-brain barrier (BBB) are highly specialized to allow precise control over the substances that leave or enter the brain. An elaborate network of complex tight junctions (TJ) between the endothelial cells forms the structural basis of the BBB and restricts the paracellular diffusion of hydrophilic molecules. Additonally, the lack of fenestrae and the extremely low pinocytotic activity of endothelial cells of the BBB inhibit the transcellular passage of molecules across the barrier. On the other hand, in order to meet the high metabolic needs of the tissue of the central nervous system (CNS), specific transport systems selectively expressed in the membranes of brain endothelial cells in capillaries mediate the directed transport of nutrients into the CNS or of toxic metabolites out of the CNS. Whereas the characteristics of the mature BBB endothelium are well described, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control the development, differentiation and maintenance of the highly specialized endothelial cells of the BBB remain unknown to date, despite the recent explosion in our knowledge of the growth factors and their receptors specifically acting on vascular endothelium during development. This review summarizes our current knowledge of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the development and maintenance of the BBB.