Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 41–57 | Cite as

Rat Brain Endothelial Cell Lines for the Study of Blood–Brain Barrier Permeability and Transport Functions



1. In vitro models of the BBB have been developed from cocultures between bovine, porcine, rodent or human brain capillary endothelial cells with rodent or human astrocytes. Since most in vivo BBB studies have been performed with small laboratory animals, especially rats, it is important to establish a rat brain endothelial (RBE) cell culture system that will allow correlations between in vitro and in vivo results. The present review will constitute a brief description of the best characterized RBE cell lines (RBE4, GP8/3.9, GPNT, RBEC1, TR-BBBs and rBCEC4 cell lines) and will summarize their recent and important contribution to our current knowledge of the BBB transport functions and permeability to blood-borne solutes, drugs, and cells.

2. In most cases, primary cultures of RBE cells were transduced with an immortalizing gene (SV40 or polyoma virus large T-antigen or adenovirus E1A), either by transfection of plasmid DNA or by infection using retroviral vectors. In one case however, the conditionally immortalized TR-BBB cell line was derived from primary cultures of brain endothelial cells of SV40-T-expressing transgenic rats.

3. All cell lines appear to have an endothelial morphology. The absence of foci formation would mean that the cells are not transformed. The endothelial origin is shown by the expression of Factor VIII-related antigen. Immortalized RBE cells express all the enzymes and transporters that are considered as specific for the blood–brain barrier endothelium, with similar characteristics to those expected from in vivo analyses, but at a significantly lower level. Some RBE cell lines are responsive to astroglial factors, such as RBE4 cells, rBEC4, and TR-BBB cells. None of the immortalized RBE cell lines appear to generate the necessary restrictive paracellular barrier properties that would allow to use them in transendothelial permeability screening.

4. RBE cell lines have been used to demonstrate that transporters such as organic cation transporter/carnitine transporter, serotonin transporter, and the ATA2 system A isoform are expressed in rat brain endothelium. When the transporter is shown to be expressed with the same properties in the immortalized RBE cells as in vivo, regulation studies may be initiated even if the transporter is down-regulated. Pharmacological applications have been proposed with well-characterized transporters such as monocarboxylic acid transporter-1, large neutral amino acid tansporter-1, nucleoside carrier systems, and P-glycoprotein. RBE cell monolayers have also been used to investigate the mechanism of the transendothelial transport of large molecules, such as immunoliposomes or nanoparticles, potentially useful as drug delivery vectors to the brain.

5. RBE4 and GP8 cell lines have been extensively used to demonstrate that intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) engagement in brain endothelial cells triggers multiple signal transduction pathways. Using functional assays, it was established that ICAM-1 signaling is intimately and actively involved in facilitating lymphocyte infiltration.

6. Several RBE cell lines have been described, which constitute tentative in vitro models of the rat BBB. The major limitation of these models generally appears to be due to their relatively high paracellular permeability to small molecules, thus limiting their use for permeability studies. The strategies developed for the production of these RBE cell lines will enable the characterization of still more efficient permeability models, as well as the immortalization of human brain endothelial cells.

Key words

blood–brain barrier rat in vitro model cell culture brain capillary endothelial cell immortalized cell line permeability transporter efflux pump 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.INSERM U26Hôpital Fernand WidalParisFrance
  2. 2.Département Biologie cellulaireInstitut Cochin INSERM U567 - CNRS UMR8104ParisFrance
  3. 3.CNRS UMR7157Hôpital Fernand WidalParis

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