Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Protect the Barrier

How immune cells are recruited across the blood-brain barrier and can cause tissue damage

24 November 2021

Protect the Barrier

Ruthless, deadly and supposed to be on our side – battling immune cells often leave infected tissues swollen and inflamed, threatening delicate organs like the brain. Fortunately we have a protective layer, the blood–brain barrier, which usually shields our delicate neurons – yet sometimes hordes of immune cells break through. Here scientists investigate a similar invasion in developing Drosophila [fruit fly] brains, finding macrophages (highlighted in purple) push through the barrier aided by the brain’s supportive glial cells (green). Once inside, the immune cells spread quickly (right), interfering with neurons (turquoise) and their connections, called synapses. Living models like Drosophila allow researchers to ponder how the human blood-brain barrier might be strengthened, and how they might calm the immune response, using drugs to strike a healthy balance between defence and destruction.

Written by John Ankers

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