, Volume 335, Issue 1, pp 75-96
Date: 16 Jul 2008

Brain endothelial cells and the glio-vascular complex

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We present and discuss the role of endothelial and astroglial cells in managing the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and aspects of pathological alterations in the BBB. The impact of astrocytes, pericytes, and perivascular cells on the induction and maintenance of the gliovascular unit is largely unidentified so far. An understanding of the signaling pathways that lie between these cell types and the endothelium and that possibly are mediated by components of the basal lamina is just beginning to emerge. The metabolism for the maintenance of the endothelial barrier is intimately linked to and dependent on the microenvironment of the brain parenchyma. We report the structure and function of the endothelial cells of brain capillaries by describing structures involved in the regulation of permeability, including transporter systems, caveolae, and tight junctions. There is increasing evidence that caveolae are not only vehicles for endo- and transcytosis, but also important regulators of tight-junction-based permeability. Tight junctions separate the luminal from the abluminal membrane domains of the endothelial cell (“fence function”) and control the paracellular pathway (“gate function”) thus representing the most significant structure of the BBB. In addition, the extracellular matrix between astrocytes/pericytes and endothelial cells contains numerous molecules with inherent signaling properties that have to be considered if we are to improve our knowledge of the complex and closely regulated BBB.

Any work of our own cited in this review was supported by grants from the Deutsche Krebshilfe (to H.W.), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (to H.W.), and the Hertie-Foundation (to H.W. and to Britta Engelhardt, Bern, Switzerland).