Tight junctions of the blood-brain barrier: development, composition and regulation

Vascul Pharmacol. 2002 Jun;38(6):323-37. doi: 10.1016/s1537-1891(02)00200-8.


1. The blood-brain barrier is essential for the maintenance and regulation of the neural microenvironment. The main characteristic features of blood-brain barrier endothelial cells are an extremely low rate of transcytotic vesicles and a restrictive paracellular diffusion barrier. 2. Endothelial blood-brain barrier tight junctions differ from epithelial tight junctions, not only by distinct morphological and molecular properties, but also by the fact that endothelial tight junctions are more sensitive to microenvironmental than epithelial factors. 3. Many ubiquitous molecular tight junction components have been identified and characterized including claudins, occludin, ZO-1, ZO-2, ZO-3, cingulin and 7H6. Signaling pathways involved in tight junction regulation include G-proteins, serine-, threonine- and tyrosine-kinases, extra and intracellular calcium levels, cAMP levels, proteases and cytokines. Common to most of these pathways is the modulation of cytoskeletal elements and the connection of tight junction transmembrane molecules to the cytoskeleton. Additionally, crosstalk between components of the tight junction- and the cadherin-catenin system of the adherens junction suggests a close functional interdependence of the two cell-cell contact systems. 4. Important new molecular aspects of tight junction regulation were recently elucidated. This review provides an integration of these new results.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Cell Movement
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / ultrastructure
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Occludin
  • Second Messenger Systems / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Tight Junctions / metabolism*
  • Tight Junctions / ultrastructure


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Occludin
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins