The blood-brain and blood-tumor barriers: a review of strategies for increasing drug delivery

Neuro Oncol. 2000 Jan;2(1):45-59. doi: 10.1093/neuonc/2.1.45.


Drug delivery to brain tumors has been a controversial subject. Some believe the blood-brain barrier is not important, while others believe it is the major obstacle in treatment and have devised innovative approaches to circumvent it. These approaches can be divided into two categories: those that attempt to increase drug delivery of intravascularly administered drugs by manipulating either the drugs or capillary permeability, and those that attempt to increase drug delivery by local administration. Several strategies have been developed to increase the fraction of intravascular drug reaching the tumor, including intra-arterial administration, barrier disruption, new ways of packaging drugs, and, most recently, inhibiting drug efflux from tumor. When given intravascularly, all drugs have a common drawback: the body acts as a sink, and, even in the best situations, only a small fraction of administered drug actually reaches the tumor. A consequence is that systemic toxicity is usually the dose-limiting factor. When given locally, such as into the cerebrospinal fluid or directly into the tumor, 100% of an administered dose is delivered to the target site. However, local delivery is associated with variable and unpredictable spatial distribution and variation in drug concentration. The major dose-limiting factor of most local delivery methods will be neurotoxicity. The relative advantages and disadvantages of the different methods of circumventing the blood-brain barrier are presented in this review, and special attention is given to convection-enhanced delivery, which has particular promise for the local delivery of large therapeutic agents such as monoclonal antibodies, antisense oligonucleotides, or viral vectors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood-Brain Barrier*
  • Brain Neoplasms / blood supply*
  • Brain Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Capillary Permeability
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Humans