Blood-brain barrier-on-a-chip: Microphysiological systems that capture the complexity of the blood-central nervous system interface

Image of the Blood Brain Barrier

The blood-brain barrier is a dynamic and highly organized structure that strictly regulates the molecules allowed to cross the brain vasculature into the central nervous system. The blood-brain barrier pathology has been associated with a number of central nervous system diseases, including vascular malformations, stroke/vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and various neurological tumors including glioblastoma multiforme. There is a compelling need for representative models of this critical interface. Current research relies heavily on animal models (mostly mice) or on two-dimensional (2D) in vitro models, neither of which fully capture the complexities of the human blood-brain barrier. Physiological differences between humans and mice make translation to the clinic problematic, while monolayer cultures cannot capture the inherently three-dimensional (3D) nature of the blood-brain barrier, which includes close association of the abluminal side of the endothelium with astrocyte foot-processes and pericytes. Here we discuss the central nervous system diseases associated with blood-brain barrier pathology, recent advances in the development of novel 3D blood-brain barrier -on-a-chip systems that better mimic the physiological complexity and structure of human blood-brain barrier, and provide an outlook on how these blood-brain barrier-on-a-chip systems can be used for central nervous system disease modeling. Impact statement The field of microphysiological systems is rapidly evolving as new technologies are introduced and our understanding of organ physiology develops. In this review, we focus on Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) models, with a particular emphasis on how they relate to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, cancer, and vascular malformations. We emphasize the importance of capturing the three-dimensional nature of the brain and the unique architecture of the BBB – something that until recently had not been well modeled by in vitro systems. Our hope is that this review will provide a launch pad for new ideas and methodologies that can provide us with truly physiological BBB models capable of yielding new insights into the function of this critical interface.