You may be surprised to learn that your brain is, in some respects, a bit like an exclusive nightclub: Surrounding your gray matter is a velvet rope of sorts called the blood-brain barrier, a tight network of cells and molecules designed to keep out riffraff such as bacteria and parasites.
Researchers have been working to better understand the blood-brain barrier and its process for determining what's allowed to pass beyond the velvet ropes. Now a pair of studies published online yesterday in Nature show specialized cells called pericytes play a key role in developing and maintaining the barricade as well as monitoring access to the brain- in effect, they are the club bouncers.
Science News reports:
One of the new studies demonstrates that pericytes are necessary for cementing the barrier's cells into a nearly impenetrable wall surrounding blood vessels in the central nervous system. The work also establishes a timeline: In mice, the blood-brain barrier develops well before birth, researchers from Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco report. Pericytes also appear to keep the barrier's cells on lockdown, dialing down the activity of genes that, if left to their own devices, would spur the transport of molecules across the barrier and into the brain.
The second new study establishes that pericytes play a key role in regulating the blood-brain barrier in adult mice and also identifies a drug that appears to slow the transport of molecules across a leaky blood-brain barrier. In mutant mice lacking functional pericytes, the leukemia drug imatinib quickly halted the willy-nilly passage of molecules into the brain, researchers from Sweden and Germany report.
The findings may one day help scientists identify why some people get certain neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy. They could also potentially lead to new therapies for conditions such as Alzheimer's.
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