Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Building a Barrier

Molecular signals involved in acquisition of blood-brain barrier features of blood vessels identified

06 February 2022

Building a Barrier

A thin layer of cells is all that lies between our blood and our brain. This blood-brain barrier is made of specialised cells that line the inside of blood vessels, called endothelial cells, that allow nutrients to pass into the brain but prevents harmful toxins from entering. If there’s a problem with the barrier, then neurological diseases can develop. To investigate these faults, scientists have to probe the origins of the barrier. Using a lab model, a research group pinpointed the moment where human stem cells changed into endothelial cells and developed distinct blood-brain barrier features. This happened when a signalling protein called Wnt was activated. One of the knock-on effects of this signalling is the production of GLUT-1, a protein which transports glucose across endothelial cells’ membranes. Cells stained magenta show where GLUT-1 is produced in Wnt-activated endothelial cells, and will enable sufficient amounts of glucose to pass into the brain – vital for its function.

Written by Katy Pallister

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