Blood-brain barrier (BBB) breakdown and immune cell infiltration into the CNS are early hallmarks of multiple sclerosis (MS). The mechanisms leading to BBB dysfunction are incompletely understood and generally thought to be a consequence of neuroinflammation. Here, we have challenged this view and asked if intrinsic alterations in the BBB of MS patients contribute to MS pathogenesis. To this end, we made use of human induced pluripotent stem cells derived from healthy controls and MS patients and differentiated them into brain microvascular endothelial cell (BMEC)-like cells as in vitro model of the BBB. MS-derived BMEC-like cells showed impaired junctional integrity, barrier properties and efflux pump activity when compared to healthy controls. Also, MS-derived BMEC-like cells displayed an inflammatory phenotype with increased adhesion molecule expression and immune cell interactions. Activation of Wnt/β-catenin signalling in MS-derived endothelial progenitor cells enhanced barrier characteristics and reduced the inflammatory phenotype. Our study provides evidence for an intrinsic impairment of BBB function in MS patients that can be modelled in vitro. Human iPSC-derived BMEC-like cells are thus suitable to explore the molecular underpinnings of BBB dysfunction in MS and will assist in the identification of potential novel therapeutic targets for BBB stabilization.
Keywords: blood–brain barrier; human induced pluripotent stem cells; immune cell migration; multiple sclerosis; permeability.
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