Markers for blood-brain barrier integrity: how appropriate is Evans blue in the twenty-first century and what are the alternatives?

Front Neurosci. 2015 Oct 29;9:385. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00385. eCollection 2015.


In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in brain barriers and various roles their intrinsic mechanisms may play in neurological disorders. Such studies require suitable models and markers to demonstrate integrity and functional changes at the interfaces between blood, brain, and cerebrospinal fluid. Studies of brain barrier mechanisms and measurements of plasma volume using dyes have a long-standing history, dating back to the late nineteenth-century. Their use in blood-brain barrier studies continues in spite of their known serious limitations in in vivo applications. These were well known when first introduced, but seem to have been forgotten since. Understanding these limitations is important because Evans blue is still the most commonly used marker of brain barrier integrity and those using it seem oblivious to problems arising from its in vivo application. The introduction of HRP in the mid twentieth-century was an important advance because its reaction product can be visualized at the electron microscopical level, but it also has limitations. Advantages and disadvantages of these markers will be discussed together with a critical evaluation of alternative approaches. There is no single marker suitable for all purposes. A combination of different sized, visualizable dextrans and radiolabeled molecules currently seems to be the most appropriate approach for qualitative and quantitative assessment of barrier integrity.

Keywords: blood-brain barrier; embryo; fetus; newborn; permeability; tight junctions.

Publication types

  • Review