Researchers Discover Way To Open Blood-Brain Barrier

Researchers from Cornell University may have solved a long-standing biological puzzle- how to safely open and close the blood-brain barrier. Finding the means to do so may help aid the effective treatment of ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis as well as cancers that affect the central nervous system. The findings of the study were published in the September 14 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The blood-brain barrier is composed of specialized cells that primarily make up the brain’s blood vessels. This barrier prevent substances from easily entering the brain and the blood or vice versa. This barrier only selects certain essential molecules like glucose, water, oxygen and amino acids to get through. The blood-brain barrier also makes it quite impossible to deliver drugs for treatment into the brain. But this may be about to change with the discovery made by the Cornell University researchers.

In a study that involved mice as the principal subjects, the researchers have found that a molecule produced by the body called adenosine can regulate the entry of large molecules into the brain. The researchers found that when adenosine receptors are activated on the cells that form part of the blood-brain barrier, a gateway through it can be established. The researchers also have found the same adenosine receptors on the blood-brain barrier in humans.

The researchers also discovered that an FDA-approved drug called Lexiscan, which is an adenosine based drug used in heart imaging for very ill patients, can also temporarily open a gateway through the blood-brain barrier. According to Margaret Bynoe, associate professor of immunology at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and a senior author of the study, “The biggest hurdle for every neurological disease is that we are unable to treat these diseases because we cannot deliver drugs into the brain. Big pharmaceutical companies have been trying for 100 years to find out how to traverse the blood-brain barrier and still keep patients alive.”

In their paper, the researchers have described how they have successfully transported macromolecules such as dextrans and antibodies across the blood-brain barrier. They also reported of successfully delivering an anti-beta amyloid antibody into the blood-brain barrier and see it binding into the beta amyloid plaques that cause Alzheimer’s disease in a transgenic mouse model. Similar studies are also being initiated for the treatment of multiple sclerosis where tightening of the blood-brain barrier is required rather than trying to open it, preventing the destructive immune cells from entering into the brain.


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