Methods in Molecular Biology Volume 1135, 2014, pp 415-437
Date: 24 Jan 2014

In Vitro Models of the Blood–Brain Barrier

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Abstract

The blood–brain barrier (BBB) proper is composed of endothelial cells (ECs) of the cerebral microvasculature, which are interconnected by tight junctions (TJs) that in turn form a physical barrier restricting paracellular flux. Tight control of vascular permeability is essential for the homeostasis and functionality of the central nervous system (CNS). In vitro BBB models have been in use for decades and have been of great benefit in the process of investigating and understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying BBB establishment. BBB integrity changes can be addressed in vitro by determining cell monolayer permeability (Pe) to different solutes and measuring trans-endothelial electrical resistance (TEER).

This chapter describes procedures that can be utilized for both freshly isolated mouse brain microvascular ECs (MBMECs) and murine or human brain EC lines (bEnd5 or hCMEC/D3), cultivated either as a single monolayer or in cocultivation with primary mouse astrocytes (ACs). It starts with detailed information on how to perform transwell cell culture, including coating of inserts and seeding of the ECs and ACs. Moreover, it encompasses instructions for electrical assessment of the in vitro BBB using the more recent cellZscope® device, which was traditionally performed with chopstick electrodes of voltohmmeter type (EVOM). From continuous impedance measurements, the cellZscope® device provides TEER (paracellular resistance) and cell membrane capacitance (Ccl—transcellular resistance), two independent measures of monolayer integrity. Additionally, this chapter provides guidance through subsequent experiments such as permeability analysis (Pe, flux), expression analysis (qRT-PCR and Western blotting), and localization analysis of BBB junction proteins (immunocytochemistry) using the same inserts subjected earlier to impedance analysis.

As numerous diseases are associated with BBB breakdown, researchers aim to continuously improve and refine in vitro BBB models to mimic in vivo conditions as closely as possible. This chapter summarizes protocols with the intention to provide a collection of BBB in vitro assays that generate reproducible results not only with primary brain ECs but also with EC lines to open up the field for a broader spectrum of researchers who intend to investigate the BBB in vitro particularly aiming at therapeutic aspects.

Cathrin J. Czupalla and Kavi Devraj contributed equally.