Institute of Medical Anatomy, Department A, University of Copenhagen, The Panum Institute, Blegdamsvej 3, DK-2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark.


The development of the human blood-brain and blood-CSF barriers

The commonly held belief that the fetal blood-brain and blood-CSF barriers are immature is reviewed. Results obtained from carefully conducted experiments with horseradish peroxidase and optimal freeze-fracturing suggest that the chick, rat and monkey brain barrier systems to proteins are tight from the earliest stages of development. Previous studies are reviewed in the light of new information on retrograde axonal transport, circumventricular organs, the proper use of horseradish peroxidase, freeze-fracturing, immunocytochemistry and plasma protein gene expression in the developing human brain. Original data on the development of human brain barrier systems are included. Tight junctions between cerebral endothelial and choroid plexus epithelial cells form the morphological basis for these systems. CSF in the fetus contains a remarkably high concentration of protein in contrast to adult CSF which is characterized by a very low protein concentration. This has previously been interpreted as due to immaturity of barriers in the fetal brain. Tight junctions between cerebral endothelial cells and between choroid plexus epithelial cells have been investigated in human embryos and fetuses by freeze fracture and thin section electron microscopy. As soon as the choroid plexus and the brain capillaries differentiated they exhibited well formed tight junctions. These junctions were very complex at early stages of development. A new barrier consisting of ‘strap junctions’ was found in the developing germinal matrix. The very high concentration of protein in early human fetal CSF cannot be accounted for by a lack of tight junctions