Neuropathology of the blood-brain barrier and pharmaco-resistance in human epilepsy

Brain. 2012 Oct;135(Pt 10):3115-33. doi: 10.1093/brain/aws147. Epub 2012 Jun 28.


Blood-brain barrier dysfunction is implicated in various neurological conditions. Modulating the blood-brain barrier may have therapeutic value. Progress is hindered by our limited understanding of the pathophysiology of the blood-brain barrier in humans, partly due to restricted availability of human tissue, and because human tissue can only provide limited data about temporal patterns of change. We addressed these important challenges by examining surgically resected brain tissue with various lengths of interval between intracranial depth electrode-related injury and resection, and post-mortem whole brain from patients with drug-sensitive or drug-resistant chronic epilepsy and controls. In this valuable set of resources, we found that: (i) there is a highly localized overexpression of P-glycoprotein in the epileptogenic hippocampus of patients with drug-resistant epilepsy; (ii) this overexpression appears specific to P-glycoprotein and does not affect other transporters; (iii) P-glycoprotein is expressed on the vascular endothelium and end-feet of vascular glia (forming a 'double cuff') in drug-resistant epileptic cases but not in post-mortem controls or surgical epilepsy tissue with electrode-related injuries; (iv) an acute insult from intracranial electrode recording causes localized inflammation, increased blood-brain barrier permeability and structural changes to vasculature detectable for up to at least 330 days and (v) chronic epilepsy is associated with inflammation, enhanced blood-brain barrier permeability and increased P-glycoprotein expression. The occurrence of seizures appears central to P-glycoprotein overexpression. Our findings have potential clinical impact because they directly improve our understanding of blood-brain barrier disruption and transporter expression in humans. In particular, our findings show that the expression of P-glycoprotein in humans is compatible with the inherent assumptions of one current hypothesis of multidrug resistance, and that the specific upregulation of P-glycoprotein expression is likely to be associated with ongoing chronic seizures. There may be a therapeutic window after initial acute injury for the prevention of P-glycoprotein overexpression, and thus this one potential component of drug resistance. Our findings add to the need for careful consideration of the benefit and risks of invasive electroencephalographic recording in surgical evaluation of drug-resistant epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / metabolism
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Epilepsy / metabolism
  • Epilepsy / pathology*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Temporal Lobe / metabolism
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1