Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 327–347 | Cite as

Neurovascular Unit: a Focus on Pericytes

  • Inês Sá-Pereira
  • Dora Brites
  • Maria Alexandra Brito
Article

Abstract

The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is a highly specialized system that controls the exchanges between the blood and the central nervous system (CNS). This barrier shields the CNS from toxic substances in the blood and provides nutrients to CNS, thus playing an essential role in the maintenance of homeostasis. The anatomical basis of the BBB is formed by the endothelial cells of brain microvasculature, with elaborated tight and adherens junctions, which together with pericytes, the basement membrane, and astrocytes, as well as neurons, microglia and oligodendrocytes form the neurovascular unit. The interaction between all these components guarantees a proper environment for neural function and a restricted permeability and transport. Pericytes were initially reported by Rouget in 1873 and since then they have been recognized as an important component of the BBB, despite the difficulty of their identification. Diverse functions have been assigned to pericytes, including a role in BBB properties, hemostasis, and angiogenesis, as well as a contractile, immune, and phagocytic function. These cells are also seen like multipotent cells and so with a great potential for therapy. Here, we review the neurovascular unit composition and the interplay between the diverse components, addressing pericytes with a particular detail.

Keywords

Blood–brain barrier Endothelial cells Neurovascular unit Pericytes 

Abbreviations

ABC

ATP-binding cassette

α-SMA

α-smooth muscle actin

Ang

Angiopoietin

AJ

Adherens junction

BBB

Blood–brain barrier

BM

Basement membrane

BMVEC

Brain microvascular endothelial cell

CAM

Cell adhesion molecule

CNS

Central nervous system

ECM

Extracellular matrix

EC

Endothelial cell

ER

Endoplasmic reticulum

GFAP

Glial fibrillary acidic protein

GLUT-1

Glucose transporter-1

ICAM-1

Intercellular adhesion molecule-1

IL

Interleukin

JAM

Junctional adhesion molecule

MHC

Major histocompatibility complex

MMP

Matrix metalloproteinase

MRP

Multidrug resistance-associated protein

NVU

Neurovascular unit

OPC

Oligodendrocyte precursor cell

PDGF-β

Platelet-derived growth factor-β

P-gp

P-glycoprotein

RGS-5

G-protein signaling-5

TEER

Transendothelial electrical resistance

TGF-β

Transforming growth factor-β

TJ

Tight junction

VCAM-1

Vascular cell adhesion molecule-1

VEGF

Vascular endothelial growth factor

VEGFR2

Vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2

ZO

Zonula occludens

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Inês Sá-Pereira
    • 1
  • Dora Brites
    • 1
    • 2
  • Maria Alexandra Brito
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Research Institute for Medicines and Pharmaceutical Sciences (iMed.UL), Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Department of Biochemistry and Human Biology, Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal

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