In the central nervous system, microvessel-neuron interactions appear highly coordinated. The rapid simultaneous responses of the microvasculature, neurons, and glia to focal ischemia in experimental ischemic stroke suggest that these responses could be viewed in a unitary fashion, rather than as individual components. The "neurovascular unit" consists of microvessels (endothelial cells-basal lamina matrix-astrocyte end-feet [and pericytes]), astrocytes, neurons and their axons, and other supporting cells that are likely to modulate the function of the "unit." Each cell component generates an inflammatory response to ischemia. Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9 was first associated with hemorrhagic transformation following focal ischemia in an experimental model. A series of studies of ischemic stroke patients also suggests a relationship between MMP-9 levels and several consequences of ischemic injury, including hemorrhagic transformation. Recent experimental work suggests specific cell sources for MMP-9 generation and for matrix proteases from four distinct families that could impact neurovascular unit integrity.
© 2010 New York Academy of Sciences.