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Healthy aging and the blood–brain barrier

Abstract

The blood–brain barrier (BBB) protects the central nervous system (CNS) from unregulated exposure to the blood and its contents. The BBB also controls the blood-to-brain and brain-to-blood permeation of many substances, resulting in nourishment of the CNS, its homeostatic regulation and communication between the CNS and peripheral tissues. The cells forming the BBB communicate with cells of the brain and in the periphery. This highly regulated interface changes with healthy aging. Here, we review those changes, starting with morphology and disruption. Transporter changes include those for amyloid beta peptide, glucose and drugs. Brain fluid dynamics, pericyte health and basement membrane and glycocalyx compositions are all altered with healthy aging. Carrying the ApoE4 allele leads to an acceleration of most of the BBB’s age-related changes. We discuss how alterations in the BBB that occur with healthy aging reflect adaptation to the postreproductive phase of life and may affect vulnerability to age-associated diseases.

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Fig. 1: Properties of the peripheral endothelial cell versus the vBBB or brain endothelial cell.
Fig. 2: Movement of brain fluids via diffusion and convection.
Fig. 3: Impact of ApoE4 on the vBBB.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs and NIH R01 AG046619.

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Banks, W.A., Reed, M.J., Logsdon, A.F. et al. Healthy aging and the blood–brain barrier. Nat Aging 1, 243–254 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-021-00043-5

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