, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 437-449
Date: 23 Apr 2013

Blood–brain barrier structure and function and the challenges for CNS drug delivery

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Abstract

The neurons of the central nervous system (CNS) require precise control of their bathing microenvironment for optimal function, and an important element in this control is the blood–brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is formed by the endothelial cells lining the brain microvessels, under the inductive influence of neighbouring cell types within the ‘neurovascular unit’ (NVU) including astrocytes and pericytes. The endothelium forms the major interface between the blood and the CNS, and by a combination of low passive permeability and presence of specific transport systems, enzymes and receptors regulates molecular and cellular traffic across the barrier layer. A number of methods and models are available for examining BBB permeation in vivo and in vitro, and can give valuable information on the mechanisms by which therapeutic agents and constructs permeate, ways to optimize permeation, and implications for drug discovery, delivery and toxicity. For treating lysosomal storage diseases (LSDs), models can be included that mimic aspects of the disease, including genetically-modified animals, and in vitro models can be used to examine the effects of cells of the NVU on the BBB under pathological conditions. For testing CNS drug delivery, several in vitro models now provide reliable prediction of penetration of drugs including large molecules and artificial constructs with promising potential in treating LSDs. For many of these diseases it is still not clear how best to deliver appropriate drugs to the CNS, and a concerted approach using a variety of models and methods can give critical insights and indicate practical solutions.

Presented at the “Brains for Brain Meeting”, Frankfurt, Germany, 9–11 March 2012
Communicated by: Maurizio Scarpa