Before entering the central nervous system (CNS) immune cells have to penetrate any one of its barriers, namely either the endothelial blood-brain barrier, the epithelial blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier or the tanycytic barrier around the circumventricular organs, all of which maintain homeostasis within the CNS. The presence of these barriers in combination with the lack of lymphatic vessels and the absence of classical MHC-positive antigen presenting cells characterizes the CNS as an immunologically privileged site. In multiple sclerosis a large number of inflammatory cells gains access to the CNS parenchyma. Studies performed in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a rodent model for multiple sclerosis, have enabled us to understand some of the molecular mechanisms involved in immune cell entry into the CNS. In particular, the realization that α4-integrins play a predominant role in leukocyte trafficking to the CNS has led to the development of a novel drug for the treatment of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which targets α4-integrin mediated immune cell migration to the CNS. At the same time, the involvement of other adhesion and signalling molecules in this process remains to be investigated and novel molecules contributing to immune cell entry into the CNS are still being identified. The entire process of immune cell trafficking into the CNS is strictly controlled by the brain barriers not only under physiological conditions but also during neuroinflammation, when some barrier properties are lost. Thus, immune cell entry into the CNS critically depends on the unique characteristics of the brain barriers maintaining CNS homeostasis.
Blood-brain barrier, choroid plexus, α4-integrin, leukocyte trafficking, natalizumab
Theodor Kocher Institute,University of Bern, Freiestr. 1, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland.