Barrier mechanisms in the brain, II. Immature brain
Saunders, NR and Habgood, MD and Dziegielewska, KM, Barrier mechanisms in the brain, II. Immature brain, Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 26, (2) pp. 85-91. ISSN 0305-1870 (1999) [Refereed Article]
1. It is widely believed that 'the' blood-brain barrier is immature in foetuses and newborns. 2. Much evidence in support of this belief is based on experiments that were unphysiological and likely to have disrupted fragile blood vessels of the developing brain. Some confusion about barrier development arises from insufficient recognition that the term 'blood-brain barrier' describes a complex series of mechanisms controlling the internal environment of the brain. 3. We present evidence showing that the brain develops within an environment that, particularly with respect to protein, is different from that of the rest of the body and that possesses a number of unique features not present in the adult. 4. Barriers to protein at blood-brain and blood-cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) interfaces (tight junctions) are present from very early in development; immunocytochemical and permeability data show that proteins are largely excluded from extracellular space in developing brain. 5. Cerebrospinal fluid in developing brain contains high concentrations of proteins largely derived from plasma. This protein is transferred from blood by an intracellular mechanism across the epithelial cells of the immature choroid plexus. Only a small proportion of choroid plexus cells is involved. The route is an intracellular system of tubulo-endoplasmic reticulum continuously connected across the epithelial cells only early in brain development. 6. High concentrations of proteins in CSF in developing brain are largely excluded from the brain's extracellular space by barriers at the internal and external CSF-brain interfaces. These consist of membrane specializations between surfaces of cells forming these interfaces (neuroependyma on the inner surface; radial glial end feet on the outer surface). In contrast with tight junctions present at the blood-brain and blood-CSF barriers, at the CSF-brain barriers of the immature brain, other junctional types are involved: strap junctions in the neuroependyma and a mixture of junctions at the outer CSF-brain barrier (plate junctions, strap junctions and wafer junctions). These barriers are not present in the adult. 7. Permeability to small lipid-insoluble molecules is greater in developing brain; more specific mechanisms, such as those involved in transfer of ions and amino acids, develop sequentially as the brain grows.