The central nervous system (CNS) has long been regarded as an immune privileged organ implying that the immune system avoids the CNS not to disturb its homeostasis, which is critical for proper function of neurons. Meanwhile, it is accepted that immune cells do in fact gain access to the CNS and that immune responses are mounted within this tissue. However, the unique CNS microenvironment strictly controls these immune reactions starting with tightly regulating immune cell entry into the tissue. The endothelial blood-brain barrier (BBB) and the epithelial bloodcerebrospinal fluid (CSF) barrier control immune cell entry into the CNS, which is rare under physiological conditions. During a variety of pathological conditions of the CNS such as viral or bacterial infections, or during inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), immunocompetent cells readily traverse the BBB and subsequently enter the CNS parenchyma. Most of our current knowledge on the molecular mechanisms involved in immune cell entry into the CNS has been derived from studies performed in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model for MS. Thus, a large part of our current knowledge on immune cell entry across the BBBs is based on the results obtained in this animal model. Similarly, knowledge on the benefits and potential risks associated with therapeutic targeting of immune cell recruitment across the BBB in human diseases are mostly derived from such treatment regimen in MS. Other mechanisms of immune cell entry into the CNS might therefore apply under different pathological conditions such as bacterial meningitis or stroke and need to be considered.
Keywords: Blood-brain barrier, drug targeting, leukocyte recruitment, multiple sclerosis, central nervous system, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
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