In vitro blood-brain barrier (BBB) models often consist of brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs) that are co-cultured with other cells of the neurovascular unit, such as astrocytes and neurons, to enhance BBB properties. Obtaining primary astrocytes and neurons for co-culture models can be laborious, while yield and heterogeneity of primary isolations can also be limiting. Neural progenitor cells (NPCs), because of their self-renewal capacity and ability to reproducibly differentiate into tunable mixtures of neurons and astrocytes, represent a facile, readily scalable alternative. To this end, differentiated rat NPCs were co-cultured with rat BMECs and shown to induce BBB properties such as elevated trans-endothelial electrical resistance, improved tight junction continuity, polarized p-glycoprotein efflux, and low passive permeability at levels indistinguishable from those induced by primary rat astrocyte co-culture. An NPC differentiation time of 12 days, with the presence of 10% fetal bovine serum, was found to be crucial for generating NPC-derived progeny capable of inducing the optimal response. This approach could also be extended to human NPC-derived astrocytes and neurons which similarly regulated BBB induction. The distribution of rat or human NPC-derived progeny under these conditions was found to be a roughly 3 : 1 mixture of astrocytes to neurons with varying degrees of cellular maturity. BMEC gene expression analysis was conducted using a BBB gene panel, and it was determined that 23 of 26 genes were similarly regulated by either differentiated rat NPC or rat astrocyte co-culture while three genes were differentially altered by the rat NPC-derived progeny. Taken together, these results demonstrate that NPCs are an attractive alternative to primary neural cells for use in BBB co-culture models.
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Neurochemistry © 2011 International Society for Neurochemistry.