High and Low Molecular Weight Fluorescein Isothiocyanate (FITC)-Dextrans to Assess Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption: Technical Considerations

Transl Stroke Res. 2011 Mar;2(1):106-11. doi: 10.1007/s12975-010-0049-x. Epub 2010 Nov 11.


This note is to report how histological preparation techniques influence the extravasation pattern of the different molecular sizes of fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-dextrans, typically used as markers for blood-brain barrier leakage. By using appropriate preparation methods, false negative results can be minimized. Wistar rats underwent a 2-h middle cerebral artery occlusion and magnetic resonance imaging. After the last imaging scan, Evans blue and FITC-dextrans of 4, 40, and 70 kDa molecular weight were injected. Different histological preparation methods were used. Sites of blood-brain barrier leakage were analyzed by fluorescence microscopy. Extravasation of Evans blue and high molecular FITC-dextrans (40 and 70 kDa) in the infarcted region could be detected with all preparation methods used. If exposed directly to saline, the signal intensity of these FITC-dextrans decreased. Extravasation of the 4-kDa low molecular weight FITC-dextran could only be detected using freshly frozen tissue sections. Preparations involving paraformaldehyde and sucrose resulted in the 4-kDa FITC-dextran dissolving in these reactants and being washed out, giving the false negative result of no extravasation. FITC-dextrans represent a valuable tool to characterize altered blood-brain barrier permeability in animal models. Diffusion and washout of low molecular weight FITC-dextran can be avoided by direct immobilization through immediate freezing of the tissue. This pitfall needs to be known to avoid the false impression that there was no extravasation of low molecular weight FITC-dextrans.