Mechanisms underlying blood–brain barrier dysfunction in brain pathology and epileptogenesis: Role of astroglia


Address correspondence to Richard Kovács, Institute for Neurophysiology, Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Oudenarder Str. 16, Berlin 13347, Germany. E-mail:


Astrocytes are increasingly recognized as equal partners to neurons, also contributing to neurologic disorders such as epilepsy. Activated astrocytes are a common hallmark in patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy and Ammon′s horn sclerosis. Blood–brain barrier (BBB) opening during status epilepticus has short-term proepileptic effects, as the ionic composition of serum interferes with neuronal excitability. In the long run, astrocytic uptake of albumin induces transforming growth factor β (TGFβ)–mediated signaling cascades, leading to changes in astrocytic properties. Down-regulation of astrocytic inward rectifier K+ channels and altered surface expression of the water channel, aquaporin 4 results in disturbances in spatial K+ buffering, thereby rendering the tissue more seizure prone. The expression of astrocytic gap junctional proteins connexin 43 (Cx43) and connexin 30 (Cx30) is altered in epilepsy, and changes in gap junctional communication were found in sclerotic hippocampal tissue in animal models of epilepsy. Although gap junctional communication might exert both proepileptic and antiepileptic effects, double knock out of Cx43 and Cx30 resulted in occurrence of spontaneous epileptiform events. Seizures are associated with massive increases in cerebral blood flow in order to cover the increased energy demand. Hemodynamic responses at the microcirculation level are mediated by astrocyte–pericyte interactions, sharing common mechanisms with spatial K+ buffering. Although many of the astrocytic mechanisms involving spatial K+ buffering, nitric oxide, adenosine, and metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR)-mediated signalling are altered in epilepsy, little is known how these alterations affect neurovascular coupling. In conclusion, astrocytic activation preceding alterations in neuronal function might critically contribute to epileptogenesis. Therefore, astrocytes represent a promising new target for the development of antiepileptic drugs.