Hypoxia increases expression of selected blood–brain barrier transporters GLUT-1, P-gp, SLC7A5 and TFRC, while maintaining barrier integrity, in brain capillary endothelial monolayers

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Brain capillary endothelial cells (BCECs) experience hypoxic conditions during early brain development. The newly formed capillaries are tight and functional before astrocytes and pericytes join the capillaries and establish the neurovascular unit. Brain endothelial cell phenotype markers P-gp (ABCB1), LAT-1(SLC7A5), GLUT-1(SLC2A1), and TFR(TFRC) have all been described to be hypoxia sensitive. Therefore, we hypothesized that monolayers of BCECs, cultured under hypoxic conditions, would show an increase in LAT-1, GLUT-1 and TFR expression and display tight endothelial barriers.

Methods and results
Primary bovine BCECs were cultured under normoxic and hypoxic conditions. Chronic hypoxia induced HIF-1α stabilization and translocation to the nucleus, as judged by immunocytochemistry and confocal laser scanning imaging. Endothelial cell morphology, claudin-5 and ZO-1 localization and barrier integrity were unaffected by hypoxia, indicating that the tight junctions in the BBB model were not compromised. SLC7A5, SLC2A1, and TFRC-mRNA levels were increased in hypoxic cultures, while ABCB1 remained unchanged as shown by real-time qPCR. P-gp, TfR and GLUT-1 were found to be significantly increased at protein levels. An increase in uptake of [3H]-glucose was demonstrated, while a non-significant increase in the efflux ratio of the P-gp substrate [3H]-digoxin was observed in hypoxic cells. No changes were observed in functional LAT-1 as judged by uptake studies of [3H]-leucine. Stabilization of HIF-1α under normoxic conditions with desferrioxamine (DFO) mimicked the effects of hypoxia on endothelial cells. Furthermore, low concentrations of DFO caused an increase in transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER), suggesting that a slight activation of the HIF-1α system may actually increase brain endothelial monolayer tightness. Moreover, exposure of confluent monolayers to hypoxia resulted in markedly increase in TEER after 24 and 48 h, which corresponded to a higher transcript level of CLDN5.

Our findings collectively suggest that hypoxic conditions increase some BBB transporters' expression via HIF-1α stabilization, without compromising monolayer integrity. This may in part explain why brain capillaries show early maturation, in terms of barrier tightness and protein expression, during embryogenesis, and provides a novel methodological tool for optimal brain endothelial culture.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFluids and Barriers of the CNS
Issue number1
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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