The blood-brain barrier is characterized by still poorly understood barrier and transport functions performed by specialized endothelial cells. Hybridoma technology has been used to identify a protein termed neurothelin that is specific for these endothelial cells. Neurothelin is defined by the species-specific mouse mAb 1W5 raised against lentil-lectin-binding proteins of neural tissue from embryonic chick. In the posthatch chick, neurothelin expression is found on endothelial cells within the brain but not on those of the systemic vascular system. Injection of the monoclonal antibody in vivo leads to labeling of brain capillaries, indicating that the corresponding antigen is expressed on the luminal surface of brain endothelial cells. Transplantation of embryonic mouse brain onto the chick chorioallantoic membrane results in rodent brain vascularization by the avian vascular system. Subsequently, normally mAb 1W5-negative endothelial cells, originating from blood vessels of the chick chorioallantoic membrane, are induced to express neurothelin when they are in contact with mouse neural tissue. In contrast to differentiated brain neurons that do not express neurothelin, neurons of the nonvascularized chick retina synthesize neurothelin. However, neurothelin is not found on retinal ganglion cell axons terminating on 1W5-negative brain cells. 1W5 immunoreactivity was also found in the pigment epithelium that forms the blood-eye barrier. Putting epithelial cells into culture results in concentration of neurothelin at cell-cell contact sites, leaving other cell surface areas devoid of antigen. Therefore, the distribution of neurothelin appears to be regulated by cell-cell interactions. In Western blot analysis, neurothelin was identified as a protein with a molecular mass of approximately 43 kD. The protein bears at least one intramolecular disulfide bridge and sulfated glucuronic acid as well as alpha-D-substituted mannose/glucose moieties. The exclusive neurothelin expression in the posthatch chick on endothelial cells of the central nervous system but not on systemic endothelial cells makes neurothelin a marker specific for blood-brain barrier-forming endothelial cells. The spatiotemporally regulated neurothelin expression in neurons suggests an interaction between vascularization and neuronal differentiation.

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