The blood-brain barrier in systemic inflammation

Brain Behav Immun. 2017 Feb:60:1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2016.03.010. Epub 2016 Mar 16.


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) plays a key role in maintaining the specialized microenvironment of the central nervous system (CNS), and enabling communication with the systemic compartment. BBB changes occur in several CNS pathologies. Here, we review disruptive and non-disruptive BBB changes in systemic infections and other forms of systemic inflammation, and how these changes may affect CNS function in health and disease. We first describe the structure and function of the BBB, and outline the techniques used to study the BBB in vitro, and in animal and human settings. We then summarise the evidence from a range of models linking BBB changes with systemic inflammation, and the underlying mechanisms. The clinical relevance of these BBB changes during systemic inflammation are discussed in the context of clinically-apparent syndromes such as sickness behaviour, delirium, and septic encephalopathy, as well as neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. We review emerging evidence for two novel concepts: (1) a heightened sensitivity of the diseased, versus healthy, BBB to systemic inflammation, and (2) the contribution of BBB changes induced by systemic inflammation to progression of the primary disease process.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Blood-brain barrier; Delirium; Lipopolysaccharide; Multiple sclerosis; Septic encephalopathy; Sickness behaviour; Systemic inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology*
  • Central Nervous System / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Infections / pathology*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / physiopathology