In vitro blood-brain barrier models: current and perspective technologies

J Pharm Sci. 2012 Apr;101(4):1337-54. doi: 10.1002/jps.23022. Epub 2011 Dec 27.


Even in the 21st century, studies aimed at characterizing the pathological paradigms associated with the development and progression of central nervous system diseases are primarily performed in laboratory animals. However, limited translational significance, high cost, and labor to develop the appropriate model (e.g., transgenic or inbred strains) have favored parallel in vitro approaches. In vitro models are of particular interest for cerebrovascular studies of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which plays a critical role in maintaining the brain homeostasis and neuronal functions. Because the BBB dynamically responds to many events associated with rheological and systemic impairments (e.g., hypoperfusion), including the exposure of potentially harmful xenobiotics, the development of more sophisticated artificial systems capable of replicating the vascular properties of the brain microcapillaries are becoming a major focus in basic, translational, and pharmaceutical research. In vitro BBB models are valuable and easy to use supporting tools that can precede and complement animal and human studies. In this article, we provide a detailed review and analysis of currently available in vitro BBB models ranging from static culture systems to the most advanced flow-based and three-dimensional coculture apparatus. We also discuss recent and perspective developments in this ever expanding research field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier* / anatomy & histology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier* / physiology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Chromatography
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology
  • Humans
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Models, Biological
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Shear Strength


  • Membranes, Artificial