Barriers in the developing brain and Neurotoxicology

Neurotoxicology. 2012 Jun;33(3):586-604. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2011.12.009. Epub 2011 Dec 19.


The brain develops and grows within a well-controlled internal environment that is provided by cellular exchange mechanisms in the interfaces between blood, cerebrospinal fluid and brain. These are generally referred to by the term "brain barriers": blood-brain barrier across the cerebral endothelial cells and blood-CSF barrier across the choroid plexus epithelial cells. An essential component of barrier mechanisms is the presence of tight junctions between the endothelial and epithelial cells of these interfaces. This review outlines historical evidence for the presence of effective barrier mechanisms in the embryo and newborn and provides an up to date description of recent morphological, biochemical and molecular data for the functional effectiveness of these barriers. Intercellular tight junctions between cerebral endothelial cells and between choroid plexus epithelial cells are functionally effective as soon as they differentiate. Many of the influx and efflux mechanisms are not only present from early in development, but the genes for some are expressed at much higher levels in the embryo than in the adult and there is physiological evidence that these transport systems are functionally more active in the developing brain. This substantial body of evidence supporting the concept of well developed barrier mechanisms in the developing brain is contrasted with the widespread belief amongst neurotoxicologists that "the" blood-brain barrier is immature or even absent in the embryo and newborn. A proper understanding of the functional capacity of the barrier mechanisms to restrict the entry of harmful substances or administered therapeutics into the developing brain is critical. This knowledge would assist the clinical management of pregnant mothers and newborn infants and development of protocols for evaluation of risks of drugs used in pregnancy and the neonatal period prior to their introduction into clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / drug effects
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / embryology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / growth & development
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / embryology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Capillary Permeability*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Neurology*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / metabolism
  • Pesticides / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Toxicology*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Pesticides