Drug interactions at the blood-brain barrier: fact or fantasy?

Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Jul;123(1):80-104. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2009.03.017. Epub 2009 Apr 22.


There is considerable interest in the therapeutic and adverse outcomes of drug interactions at the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier (BCSFB). These include altered efficacy of drugs used in the treatment of CNS disorders, such as AIDS dementia and malignant tumors, and enhanced neurotoxicity of drugs that normally penetrate poorly into the brain. BBB- and BCSFB-mediated interactions are possible because these interfaces are not only passive anatomical barriers, but are also dynamic in that they express a variety of influx and efflux transporters and drug metabolizing enzymes. Based on studies in rodents, it has been widely postulated that efflux transporters play an important role at the human BBB in terms of drug delivery. Furthermore, it is assumed that chemical inhibition of transporters or their genetic ablation in rodents is predictive of the magnitude of interaction to be expected at the human BBB. However, studies in humans challenge this well-established paradigm and claim that such drug interactions will be lesser in magnitude but yet may be clinically significant. This review focuses on current known mechanisms of drug interactions at the blood-brain and blood-CSF barriers and the potential impact of such interactions in humans. We also explore whether such drug interactions can be predicted from preclinical studies. Defining the mechanisms and the impact of drug-drug interactions at the BBB is important for improving efficacy of drugs used in the treatment of CNS disorders while minimizing their toxicity as well as minimizing neurotoxicity of non-CNS drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / drug effects*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / metabolism*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations