Apolipoprotein E4 impairs spontaneous blood brain barrier repair following traumatic brain injury

Mol Neurodegener. 2018 Apr 4;13(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s13024-018-0249-5.


Background: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a major cause of disability and mortality, to which there is currently no comprehensive treatment. Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) dysfunction is well documented in human TBI patients, yet the molecular mechanisms that underlie this neurovascular unit (NVU) pathology remains unclear. The apolipoprotein-E (apoE) protein has been implicated in controlling BBB integrity in an isoform dependent manner, via suppression of Cyclophilin A (CypA)-Matrix metallopeptidase-9 (MMP-9) signaling cascades, however the contribution of this pathway in TBI-induced BBB permeability is not fully investigated.

Methods: We exposed C57Bl/6 mice to controlled cortical impact and assessed NVU and BBB permeability responses up to 21 days post-injury. We pharmacologically probed the role of the CypA-MMP-9 pathway in BBB permeability after TBI using Cyclosporin A (CsA, 20 mg/kg). Finally, as the apoE4 protein is known to be functionally deficient compared to the apoE3 protein, we used humanized APOE mice as a clinically relevant model to study the role of apoE on BBB injury and repair after TBI.

Results: In C57Bl/6 mice there was an inverse relationship between soluble apoE and BBB permeability, such that damaged BBB stabilizes as apoE levels increase in the days following TBI. TBI mice displayed acute pericyte loss, increased MMP-9 production and activity, and reduced tight-junction expression. Treatment with the CypA antagonist CsA in C57Bl/6 mice attenuates MMP-9 responses and enhances BBB repair after injury, demonstrating that MMP-9 plays an important role in the timing of spontaneous BBB repair after TBI. We also show that apoe mRNA is present in both astrocytes and pericytes after TBI. We report that APOE3 and APOE4 mice have similar acute BBB responses to TBI, but APOE3 mice display faster spontaneous BBB repair than APOE4 mice. Isolated microvessel analysis reveals delayed pericyte repopulation, augmented and sustained MMP-9 expression at the NVU, and impaired stabilization of Zonula Occludens-1, Occludin and Claudin-5 expression at tight junctions in APOE4 mice after TBI compared to APOE3 mice.

Conclusions: These data confirm apoE as an important modulator of spontaneous BBB stabilization following TBI, and highlights the APOE4 allele as a risk factor for poor outcome after TBI.

Keywords: Apolipoprotein E; Blood brain barrier; CD31; Lectin; MMP-9; Neurovascular unit; Pericyte; TBI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apolipoprotein E3 / metabolism
  • Apolipoprotein E4 / metabolism*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / metabolism*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / pathology*
  • Capillary Permeability / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic


  • Apolipoprotein E3
  • Apolipoprotein E4