1. The term “blood–brain barrier” describes a range of mechanisms that control the exchange of molecules between the internal environment of the brain and the rest of the body.
2. The underlying morphological feature of these barriers is the presence of tight junctions which are present between cerebral endothelial cells and between choroid plexus epithelial cells. These junctions are present in blood vessels in fetal brain and are effective in restricting entry of proteins from blood into brain and cerebrospinal fluid. However, some features of the junctions appear to mature during brain development.
3. Although proteins do not penetrate into the extracellular space of the immature brain, they do penetrate into cerebrospinal fluid by a mechanism that is considered in the accompanying review (Dziegielewska et al., 2000).
4. In the immature brain there are additional morphological barriers at the interface between cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue: strap junctions at the inner neuroependymal surface and these and other intercellular membrane specializations at the outer (pia–arachnoid) surface. These barriers disappear later in development and are absent in the adult.
5. There is a decline in permeability to low molecular weight lipid-insoluble compounds during brain development which appears to be due mainly to a decrease in the intrinsic permeability of the blood–brain and blood–cerebrospinal fluid interfaces.
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