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Open Access Highly Accessed Study protocol

Organotypic brain slices: a model to study the neurovascular unit micro-environment in epilepsies

Mélanie Morin-Brureau12, Frédéric De Bock1 and Mireille Lerner-Natoli1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle, CNRS UMR5203, INSERM U661, Université Montpellier 1, 2, Montpellier, France

2 Department of Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University, 1020 Locust Street, JAH 454, Philadelphia, PA, 19107, USA

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Fluids and Barriers of the CNS 2013, 10:11  doi:10.1186/2045-8118-10-11

Published: 7 February 2013

Abstract

Background

It is now recognized that the neuro-vascular unit (NVU) plays a key role in several neurological diseases including epilepsy, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and the development of gliomas. Most of these disorders are associated with NVU dysfunction, due to overexpression of inflammatory factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Various in vitro models have been developed previously to study the micro-environment of the blood–brain barrier (BBB). However none of these in vitro models contained a complete complement of NVU cells, nor maintained their interactions, thus minimizing the influence of the surrounding tissue on the BBB development and function. The organotypic hippocampal culture (OHC) is an integrative in vitro model that allows repeated manipulations over time to further understand the development of cell circuits or the mechanisms of brain diseases.

Methods/design

OHCs were cultured from hippocampi of 6–7 day-old Sprague Dawley rats. After 2 weeks in culture, seizures were induced by application of kainate or bicuculline into culture medium. The regulation of BBB integrity under physiological and pathological conditions was evaluated by immunostaining of the main tight junction (TJ) proteins and of the basal membrane of microvessels. To mimic or prevent BBB disassembly, we used diverse pro- or anti-angiogenic treatments.

Discussion

This study demonstrates that NVU regulation can be investigated using OHCs. We observed in this model system an increase in vascularization and a down-regulation of TJ proteins, similar to the vascular changes described in a chronic focus of epileptic patients, and in rodent models of epilepsy or inflammation. We observed that Zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) protein disappeared after seizures associated with neuronal damage. In these conditions, the angiopoeitin-1 system was down-regulated, and the application of r-angiopoeitin-1 allowed TJ re-assembly. This article demonstrates that organotypic culture is a useful model to decipher the links between epileptic activity and vascular damage, and also to investigate NVU regulation in diverse neurological disorders.

Keywords:
Neurovascular unit (NVU); Blood–brain barrier (BBB); Organotypic brain slices; Epilepsy