The translational significance of the neurovascular unit

Heather L. McConnell, Cymon N. Kersch, Randall L. Woltjer, Edward A. Neuwelt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


The mammalian brain is supplied with blood by specialized vasculature that is structurally and functionally distinct from that of the periphery. A defining feature of this vasculature is a physical blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB separates blood components from the brain microenvironment, regulating the entry and exit of ions, nutrients, macromolecules, and energy metabolites. Over the last two decades, physiological studies of cerebral blood flow dynamics have demonstrated that substantial intercellular communication occurs between cells of the vasculature and the neurons and glia that abut the vasculature. These findings suggest that the BBB does not function independently, but as a module within the greater context of a multicellular neurovascular unit (NVU) that includes neurons, astrocytes, pericytes, and microglia as well as the blood vessels themselves. Here, we describe the roles of these NVU components as well as how they act in concert to modify cerebrovascular function and permeability in health and in select diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)762-770
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 20 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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