Ultracytochemical characterization of anionic sites in the wall of brain capillaries

J Neurocytol. 1989 Jun;18(3):359-68. doi: 10.1007/BF01190839.


The chemical nature of anionic sites located on both fronts of the endothelial cells (ECs) and in the basement membrane (BM) of mouse brain capillaries was studied using tissue sections embedded in Lowicryl K4M and cationic colloidal gold. Before labelling with cationic probe, the sections were digested with the following enzymes: trypsin, papain, pronase E, proteinase K, collagenase, chondroitinase ABC, hyaluronidase, heparinase, heparitinase, neuraminidase and endoglycosidase H. The results indicate that the negatively charged surface layer on the luminal front differs in chemical nature from that on the abluminal front of the EC. Anionic sites located on the luminal surface of the plasmalemma of the ECs are mainly contributed by sialic acid residues of acidic glycoproteins. On the contrary, the anionic domains on the abluminal front of the EC represent mixed proteoglycan and acid glycopeptides containing hydrophobic amino acids, sialic acid residues, and are rich in heparan sulphate-bearing glycosaminoglycans. The anionic sites of the BM are contributed in a substantial degree by chondroitin and heparan sulphate-rich glycosaminoglycans. The effect of endoglycosidase H suggests that glycopeptides containing oligomannosyl residues linked to N-acetylglucosamine contribute in small degree in maintenance of the negative charge in the BM, but not on the surfaces of the EC. These results show that brain endothelium bears surface anionic domains differing chemically from those described for some fenestrated and continuous endothelia. The distribution of anionic sites indicates that the discrimination against various negatively charged molecules takes place on both fronts of the ECs as well as in the BM of brain micro-blood vessels. The exact role of these domains in the function of the blood-brain barrier remains to be established.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basement Membrane / cytology*
  • Basement Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Capillaries / cytology
  • Capillaries / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Microscopy, Electron