The blood-brain barrier in neuroimmunology: Tales of separation and assimilation

Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Feb;44:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.08.007. Epub 2014 Aug 27.


Neuroimmunology is concerned with the relations between the central nervous and immune systems and with the mechanisms that drive those relations. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) employs mechanisms that both separate and connect these two systems. In fact, the relative immune privilege of the central nervous system (CNS) is largely attributable to the BBB's ability to prevent the unregulated exchange of immune cells and their secretions between the CNS and blood. Having separated the two systems, the BBB then participates in mechanisms that allow them to influence, communicate, and interact with one another. Likewise, the BBB itself is influenced by immune events that are occurring in the periphery and in the CNS so that these three components (the BBB, the immune system, and the CNS) form neuroimmune axes that adapt to physiological and pathological conditions. To date, four major themes have emerged by which the BBB participates in these neuroimmune axes. The first of these four, the formation of the barrier, acts to separate the immune and central nervous systems. The other three themes provide mechanisms for re-establishing communication: response of the BBB to immunomodulatory molecules (e.g., prostaglandins, cytokines, chemokines, nitric oxide) secreted by immune and CNS cells; the controlled, regulated exchange of chemokines, cytokines, and immune cells between the CNS and the blood (i.e., transport across the BBB); the secretion of immunomodulatory molecules by the BBB, often in a polarized fashion. Taken together, these mechanisms reveal the BBB to be a dynamic, interactive, and adaptable interface between the immune system and the CNS, separating them on the one hand and fostering their interactions on the other hand, adjusting to physiological changes, while being a target for disease processes. This review examines specific examples by which the BBB plays an interactive, defining role in neuroimmunology.

Keywords: Blood-brain barrier; Brain endothelial cell; Central nervous system; Cytokine; Immune cells; Neuroimmunology; Pericyte.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / immunology*
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Humans
  • Neuroimmunomodulation*
  • Nitric Oxide / immunology
  • Prostaglandins / immunology


  • Cytokines
  • Prostaglandins
  • Nitric Oxide