Comparison of a rat primary cell-based blood-brain barrier model with epithelial and brain endothelial cell lines: Gene expression and drug transport

S. Veszelka, András Tóth, Fruzsina R. Walter, Andrea E. Tóth, Ilona Gróf, Mária Mészáros, Alexandra Bocsik, Éva Hellinger, Monika Vastag, G. Rákhely, Mária A. Deli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


Cell culture-based blood-brain barrier (BBB) models are useful tools for screening of CNS drug candidates. Cell sources for BBB models include primary brain endothelial cells or immortalized brain endothelial cell lines. Despite their well-known differences, epithelial cell lines are also used as surrogate models for testing neuropharmaceuticals. The aim of the present study was to compare the expression of selected BBB related genes including tight junction proteins, solute carriers (SLC), ABC transporters, metabolic enzymes and to describe the paracellular properties of nine different culture models. To establish a primary BBB model rat brain capillary endothelial cells were co-cultured with rat pericytes and astrocytes (EPA). As other BBB and surrogate models four brain endothelial cells lines, rat GP8 and RBE4 cells, and human hCMEC/D3 cells with or without lithium treatment (D3 and D3L), and four epithelial cell lines, native human intestinal Caco-2 and high P-glycoprotein expressing vinblastine-selected VB-Caco-2 cells, native MDCK and MDR1 transfected MDCK canine kidney cells were used. To test transporter functionality, the permeability of 12 molecules, glucopyranose, valproate, baclofen, gabapentin, probenecid, salicylate, rosuvastatin, pravastatin, atorvastatin, tacrine, donepezil, was also measured in the EPA and epithelial models. Among the junctional protein genes, the expression level of occludin was high in all models except the GP8 and RBE4 cells, and each model expressed a unique claudin pattern. Major BBB efflux (P-glycoprotein or ABCB1) and influx transporters (GLUT-1, LAT-1) were present in all models at mRNA levels. The transcript of BCRP (ABCG2) was not expressed in MDCK, GP8 and RBE4 cells. The absence of gene expression of important BBB efflux and influx transporters BCRP, MRP6,-9, MCT6,-8, PHT2, OATPs in one or both types of epithelial models suggests that Caco-2 or MDCK models are not suitable to test drug candidates which are substrates of these transporters. Brain endothelial cell lines GP8, RBE4, D3 and D3L did not form a restrictive paracellular barrier necessary for screening small molecular weight pharmacons. Therefore, among the tested culture models, the primary cell-based EPA model is suitable for the functional analysis of the BBB.

Original languageEnglish
Article number166
JournalFrontiers in Molecular Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - May 22 2018



  • Blood-brain barrier
  • Brain endothelial cells
  • Caco-2
  • CNS drug permeability
  • Gene expression
  • HCMEC/D3
  • MDCK
  • RBE4

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Cite this