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An improved in vitro blood-brain barrier model: Rat brain endothelial cells co-cultured with astrocytes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAstrocytes
Subtitle of host publicationMethods and Protocols
EditorsRichard Milner
Number of pages16

Publication series

NameMethods in Molecular Biology
ISSN (Print)1064-3745

King's Authors


In vitro blood-brain barrier (BBB) models using primary cultured brain endothelial cells are important for establishing cellular and molecular mechanisms of BBB function. Co-culturing with BBB-associated cells especially astrocytes to mimic more closely the in vivo condition leads to upregulation of the BBB phenotype in the brain endothelial cells. Rat brain endothelial cells (RBECs) are a valuable tool allowing ready comparison with in vivo studies in rodents; however, it has been difficult to obtain pure brain endothelial cells, and few models achieve a transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER, measure of tight junction efficacy) of >200 Ω cm 2, i.e. the models are still relatively leaky. Here, we describe methods for preparing high purity RBECs and neonatal rat astrocytes, and a co-culture method that generates a robust, stable BBB model that can achieve TEER >600 Ω cm 2. The method is based on >20 years experience with RBEC culture, together with recent improvements to kill contaminating cells and encourage BBB differentiation. Astrocytes are isolated by mechanical dissection and cell straining and are frozen for later co-culture. RBECs are isolated from 3-month-old rat cortices. The brains are cleaned of meninges and white matter and enzymatically and mechanically dissociated. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate is centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from other cells that stick to the myelin plug. The vessel fragments undergo a second enzyme digestion to separate pericytes from vessels and break down vessels into shorter segments, after which a Percoll gradient is used to separate capillaries from venules, arterioles, and single cells. To kill remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes, the capillary fragments are plated in puromycin-containing medium and RBECs grown to 50-60% confluence. They are then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown in the bottom of the wells. The whole procedure takes 2 weeks, using pre-frozen astrocytes, from isolation of RBECs to generation of high-resistance/low- permeability RBEC monolayers.

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