Functions of lipid raft membrane microdomains at the blood–brain barrier
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The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is a highly specialized structural and functional component of the central nervous system that separates the circulating blood from the brain and spinal cord parenchyma. Brain endothelial cells (BECs) that primarily constitute the BBB are tightly interconnected by multiprotein complexes, the adherens junctions and the tight junctions, thereby creating a highly restrictive cellular barrier. Lipid-enriched membrane microdomain compartmentalization is an inherent property of BECs and allows for the apicobasal polarity of brain endothelium, temporal and spatial coordination of cell signaling events, and actin remodeling. In this manuscript, we review the role of membrane microdomains, in particular lipid rafts, in the BBB under physiological conditions and during leukocyte transmigration/diapedesis. Furthermore, we propose a classification of endothelial membrane microdomains based on their function, or at least on the function ascribed to the molecules included in such heterogeneous rafts: (1) rafts associated with interendothelial junctions and adhesion of BECs to basal lamina (scaffolding rafts); (2) rafts involved in immune cell adhesion and migration across brain endothelium (adhesion rafts); (3) rafts associated with transendothelial transport of nutrients and ions (transporter rafts).