The blood-brain barrier (BBB) used to be considered impermeable to polypeptides. However, this view has evolved rapidly over the past two decades. Not only do polypeptides have the potential to serve as carriers for selective therapeutic agents, but they themselves may directly cross the BBB after delivery into the bloodstream to become potential treatments for a variety of CNS disorders, including neurodegeneration, autoimmune diseases, stroke, depression, and obesity. The interactions of polypeptides with the BBB can take many forms, such as simple diffusion, saturable transport, or facilitation of entry of another peptide or protein. In some instances, interactions in the blood compartment (outside the BBB) or within the endothelial cells (at the BBB level) can significantly impede the passage of polypeptides across the BBB. We shall review the different aspects of interactions between peptides / proteins and the BBB that affect their delivery as potential drugs in their natural form, and discuss recent advances in the cell biology of polypeptide transport across the BBB. Better understanding of the BBB will provide insight and direction for future research in the treatment of CNS disorders.
blood-brain barrier, blood-spinal cord barrier, neurotrophins, cytokines
Department of Medicine and Neuroscience Program, Tulane University and the VA Medical Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.