Tight junctions (TJs) feature critically in maintaining the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and undergo significant disruption during neuroinflammatory diseases. Accordingly, the expression and distribution of CLN-5, a prominent TJ protein in central nervous system (CNS) microvessels and BBB determinant, has been shown to parallel physiological and pathophysiological changes in microvascular function. However, efforts to quantify CLN-5 within the CNS microvasculature in situ, by using conventional two-dimensional immunohistochemical analysis of thin sections, are encumbered by the tortuosity of capillaries and distorted diameters of inflamed venules. Herein, we describe a novel contour-based 3D image visualization and quantification method, employing high-resolution confocal z-stacks from thick immunofluorescently-stained thoraco-lumbar spinal cord cryosections, to analyze CLN-5 along the junctional regions of different-sized CNS microvascular segments. Analysis was performed on spinal cords of both healthy mice, and mice experiencing experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model of the neuroinflammatory disease multiple sclerosis. Results indicated that, under normal conditions, the density of CLN-5 staining (CLN-5 intensity/ endothelial surface area) was greatest in the capillaries and smaller venules, and least in the larger venules. This heterogeneity in junctional CLN-5 staining was exacerbated during EAE, as spinal venules revealed a significant loss of junctional CLN-5 staining that was associated with focal leukocyte extravasation, while adjacent capillaries exhibited neither CLN-5 loss nor infiltrating leukocytes. However, despite only venules displaying these behaviors, both capillaries and venules evidenced leakage of IgG during disease, further underscoring the heterogeneity of the inflammatory response in CNS microvessels. This method should be readily adaptable to analyzing other junctional proteins of the CNS and peripheral microvasculature, and serve to highlight their role(s) in health and disease.
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