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Keywords:

  • blood-brain barrier;
  • central nervous system;
  • history of medicine

Abstract

Although there has been considerable controversy since the observation by Ehrlich more than 100 years ago that the brain did not take up dyes from the vascular system, the concept of an endothelial blood-brain barrier (BBB) was confirmed by the unequivocal demonstration that the passage of molecules from blood to brain and vice versa was prevented by endothelial tight junctions (TJs). There are three major functions implicated in the term “BBB”: protection of the brain from the blood milieu, selective transport, and metabolism or modification of blood- or brain-borne substances. The BBB phenotype develops under the influence of associated brain cells, especially astrocytic glia, and consists of complex TJs and a number of specific transport and enzyme systems that regulate molecular traffic across the endothelial cells. The development of the BBB is a complex process that leads to endothelial cells with unique permeability characteristics due to high electrical resistance and the expression of specific transporters and metabolic pathways. This review article summarizes the historical background underlying our current knowledge of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the development and maintenance of the BBB. Anat Rec (Part B: New Anat) 289B:3–8, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.