Integrity of the blood-brain barrier influenced by epigenetic control of neurons and blood vessel cells
Two very different tissues meet at the blood-brain barrier, where our circulatory system delivers usable energy to hungry neurons while preventing harmful pathogens from accidentally leaking into the brain. This delicate process requires regular communication, and is still a little mysterious. In this slice through a developing mouse brain, endothelial cells lining vessels (green) are surrounded by pericytes (red), which contract to control traffic through the barrier. Meanwhile, in neighbouring neurons on the other side, researchers found molecules that help switch important genes on or off by controlling access to the DNA – a process known as epigenetics – can cause drastic changes in the neuron’s metabolism. Reacting to these chemical changes, pericytes relax the blood-brain barrier, potentially increasing the risk of infection. As epigenetic controls change as we age, they may hold the clues to the role of blood-brain communication in Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
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