In contrast to the endothelial cells in large vessels where LDL receptors are downregulated, brain capillary endothelial cells in vivo express an LDL receptor. Using a cell culture model of the blood-brain barrier consisting of a coculture of brain capillary endothelial cells and astrocytes, we observed that the capacity of endothelial cells to bind LDL is enhanced threefold when cocultured with astrocytes. We next investigated the ability of astrocytes to modulate endothelial cell LDL receptor expression. We have shown that the lipid requirement of astrocytes increases the expression of endothelial cell LDL receptors. Experiments with dialysis membranes of different pore size showed that this effect is mediated by a soluble factor(s) with relative molecular mass somewhere between 3,500 and 14,000. Substituting astrocytes with smooth muscle cells or brain endothelium with endothelium from the aorta or the adrenal cortex did not enhance the luminal LDL receptor expression on endothelial cells, demonstrating the specificity of the interactions. This factor(s) is exclusively secreted by astrocytes cocultured with brain capillary endothelial cells, but it also upregulates the LDL receptor on other cell types. This study confirms the notion that the final fine tuning of cell differentiation is under local control.

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