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The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is crucial in the maintenance of a controlled environment within the brain to safeguard optimal neuronal function. The endothelial cells (ECs) of the BBB possess specific properties that restrict the entry of cells and metabolites into the CNS. The specialized BBB endothelial phenotype is induced during neurovascular development by surrounding cells of the CNS. However, the molecular differentiation of the BBB endothelium remains poorly understood. Retinoic acid (RA) plays a crucial role in the brain during embryogenesis. Because radial glial cells supply the brain with RA during the developmental cascade and associate closely with the developing vasculature, we hypothesize that RA is important for the induction of BBB properties in brain ECs. Analysis of human postmortem fetal brain tissue shows that the enzyme mainly responsible for RA synthesis, retinaldehyde dehydrogenase, is expressed by radial glial cells. In addition, the most important receptor for RA-driven signaling in the CNS, RA-receptor β (RARβ), is markedly expressed by the developing brain vasculature. Our findings have been further corroborated by in vitro experiments showing RA- and RARβ-dependent induction of different aspects of the brain EC barrier. Finally, pharmacologic inhibition of RAR activation during the differentiation of the murine BBB resulted in the leakage of a fluorescent tracer as well as serum proteins into the developing brain and reduced the expression levels of important BBB determinants. Together, our results point to an important role for RA in the induction of the BBB during human and mouse development.


Mark R Mizee, Desiree Wooldrik, Kim A M Lakeman, Bert van het Hof, Joost A R Drexhage, Dirk Geerts, Marianna Bugiani, Eleonora Aronica, Reina E Mebius, Alexandre Prat, Helga E de Vries, Arie Reijerkerk. Retinoic acid induces blood-brain barrier development. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2013 Jan 23;33(4):1660-71

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PMID: 23345238

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