Background: Increased matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9 in the plasma and brain is associated with blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption through proteolytic activity in neuroinflammatory diseases. MMP-9 is present in the brain microvasculature and its vicinity, where brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs), pericytes and astrocytes constitute the BBB. Little is known about the cellular source and role of MMP-9 at the BBB. Here, we examined the ability of pericytes to release MMP-9 and migrate in response to inflammatory mediators in comparison with BMECs and astrocytes, using primary cultures isolated from rat brains.
Methods: The culture supernatants were collected from primary cultures of rat brain endothelial cells, pericytes, or astrocytes. MMP-9 activities and levels in the supernatants were measured by gelatin zymography and western blot, respectively. The involvement of signaling molecules including mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt in the mediation of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α-induced MMP-9 release was examined using specific inhibitors. The functional activity of MMP-9 was evaluated by a cell migration assay.
Results: Zymographic and western blot analyses demonstrated that TNF-α stimulated pericytes to release MMP-9, and this release was much higher than from BMECs or astrocytes. Other inflammatory mediators [interleukin (IL)-1β, interferon-γ, IL-6 and lipopolysaccharide] failed to induce MMP-9 release from pericytes. TNF-α-induced MMP-9 release from pericytes was found to be mediated by MAPKs and PI3K. Scratch wound healing assay showed that in contrast to BMECs and astrocytes the extent of pericyte migration was significantly increased by TNF-α. This pericyte migration was inhibited by anti-MMP-9 antibody.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that pericytes are most sensitive to TNF-α in terms of MMP-9 release, and are the major source of MMP-9 at the BBB. This pericyte-derived MMP-9 initiated cellular migration of pericytes, which might be involved in pericyte loss in the damaged BBB.