Drug metabolizing enzymes in cerebrovascular endothelial cells afford a metabolic protection to the brain

Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 1999 Feb;45(1):15-23.


The brain is partially protected from chemical insults by a physical barrier mainly formed by the cerebral microvasculature, which prevents penetration of hydrophilic molecules in the cerebral extracellular space. This results from the presence of tight junctions joining endothelial cells, and from a low transcytotic activity in endothelial cells, inducing selective permeability properties of cerebral microvessels that characterize the blood-brain barrier. The endothelial cells provide also, as a result of their drug-metabolizing enzymes activities, a metabolic barrier against potentially penetrating lipophilic substances. It has been established that in cerebrovascular endothelial cells, several families of enzymes metabolize potentially toxic lipophilic substrates from both endogenous and exogenous origin to polar metabolites, which may not be able to penetrate further across the blood-brain barrier. Enzymes of drug metabolism present at brain interfaces devoid of blood-brain barrier, like circumventricular organs, pineal gland, and hypophysis, that are potential sites of entry for xenobiotics, display higher activities than in cerebrovascular endothelial cells, and conjugation activities are very high in the choroid plexus. Finally, xenobiotic metabolism normally results in detoxication, but also in some cases in the formation of pharmacologically active or neurotoxic products, possibly altering some blood-brain barrier properties.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / enzymology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Rats