Journal of cerebral blood flow and metabolism : official journal of the International Society of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism

Heterogeneity in the rat brain vasculature revealed by quantitative confocal analysis of endothelial barrier antigen and P-glycoprotein expression.

PMID 21792241


While phenotypic endothelial heterogeneity is well documented in peripheral organs, it is only now being explored in the brain. We used confocal imaging of thick sections of rat brain to qualitatively and quantitatively examine the expression of two key markers of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in the rat, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), and endothelial barrier antigen (EBA). We found that these markers were not uniformly distributed throughout the whole vasculature of the cortex and hippocampus. P-glycoprotein displayed a gradient of expression from an almost undetectable level in large penetrating arterioles to a high and uniform level in capillaries and venules. While EBA was lacking in all cerebral arterioles, regardless of their size, its expression varied greatly among endothelial cells in capillaries and venules, yielding a striking mosaic pattern. A detailed quantitative analysis of the distribution of these markers at the single cell level in capillaries is provided. These results challenge the view of a uniform BBB and suggest that regulatory mechanisms might differentially modulate BBB features not only among arterioles/capillaries/venules but also at the single cell level within the capillaries. Hypotheses are made regarding the underlying mechanisms and physiopathological consequences of this heterogeneity.