Analyzing the blood-brain barrier: The benefits of medical imaging in research and clinical practice Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • A dysfunctional BBB is a common feature in a variety of brain disorders, a fact stressing the need for diagnostic tools designed to assess brain vessels’ permeability in space and time. Biological research has benefited over the years various means to analyze BBB integrity. The use of biomarkers for improper BBB functionality is abundant. Systemic administration of BBB impermeable tracers can both visualize brain regions characterized by BBB impairment, as well as lead to its quantification. Additionally, locating molecular, physiological content in regions from which it is restricted under normal BBB functionality undoubtedly indicates brain pathology-related BBB disruption. However, in-depth research into the BBB's phenotype demands higher analytical complexity than functional vs. pathological BBB; criteria which biomarker based BBB permeability analyses do not meet. The involvement of accurate and engineering sciences in recent brain research, has led to improvements in the field, in the form of more accurate, sensitive imaging-based methods. Improvements in the spatiotemporal resolution of many imaging modalities and in image processing techniques, make up for the inadequacies of biomarker based analyses. In pre-clinical research, imaging approaches involving invasive procedures, enable microscopic evaluation of BBB integrity, and benefit high levels of sensitivity and accuracy. However, invasive techniques may alter normal physiological function, thus generating a modality-based impact on vessel's permeability, which needs to be corrected for. Non-invasive approaches do not affect proper functionality of the inspected system, but lack in spatiotemporal resolution. Nevertheless, the benefit of medical imaging, even in pre-clinical phases, outweighs its disadvantages. The innovations in pre-clinical imaging and the development of novel processing techniques, have led to their implementation in clinical use as well. Specialized analyses of vessels’ permeability add valuable information to standard anatomical inspections which do not take the latter into consideration.

publication date

  • January 1, 2015