Role of Caspases in Cytokine-Induced Barrier Breakdown in Human Brain Endothelial Cells
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The Journal of Immunology 189 (6): 3130--3139 (September 2012)

During neuroinflammation, cytokines such as TNF-a and IFN-g secreted by activated leukocytes and/or CNS resident cells have been shown to alter the phenotype and function of brain endothelial cells (BECs) leading to blood–brain barrier breakdown. In this study, we show that the human BEC line hCMEC/D3 expresses the receptors for TNF-a, TNF receptor 1 and TNF receptor 2, and for IFN-g. BEC activation with TNF-a alone or in combination with IFN-g induced endothelial leakage of paracellular tracers. At high cytokine concentrations (10 and 100 ng/ml), this effect was associated with caspase-3/7 activation and apoptotic cell death as evidenced by annexin V staining and DNA fragmentation (TUNEL) assays. In addition, inhibition of JNK and protein kinase C activation at these doses partially prevented activation of caspase-3/7, although only JNK inhibition was partially able to prevent the increase in BEC paracellular permeability induced by cytokines. By contrast, lower cytokine concentrations (1 ng/ml) also led to effector caspase activation, increased paracellular flux, and redistribution of zonula occludens-1 and VE-cadherin but failed to induce apoptosis. Under these conditions, specific caspase-3 and caspase-9, but not caspase-8, inhibitors partially blocked cytokine-induced disruption of tight and adherens junctions and BEC paracellular permeability. Our results suggest that the concentration of cytokines in the CNS endothelial microenvironment determines the extent of caspase-mediated barrier perme- ability changes, which may be generalized as a result of apoptosis or more subtle as a result of alterations in the organization of junctional complex molecules
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