Glutamate-mediated blood–brain barrier opening: Implications for neuroprotection and drug delivery

Udi Vazana, Ronel Veksler, Gaby S. Pell, Ofer Prager, Michael Fassler, Yoash Chassidim, Yiftach Roth, Hamutal Shahar, Abraham Zangen, Ruggero Raccah, Emanuela Onesti, Marco Ceccanti, Claudio Colonnese, Antonio Santoro, Maurizio Salvati, Alessandro D’Elia, Valter Nucciarelli, Maurizio Inghilleri, Alon Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


The blood– brain barrier is a highly selective anatomical and functional interface allowing a unique environment for neuro-glia networks. Blood– brain barrier dysfunction is common in most brain disorders and is associated with disease course and delayed complications. However, the mechanisms underlying blood– brain barrier opening are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate the role of the neurotransmitter glutamate in modulating early barrier permeability in vivo. Using intravital microscopy, we show that recurrent seizures and the associated excessive glutamate release lead to increased vascular permeability in the rat cerebral cortex, through activation of NMDA receptors. NMDA receptor antagonists reduce barrier permeability in the peri-ischemic brain, whereas neuronal activation using high-intensity magnetic stimulation increases barrier permeability and facilitates drug delivery. Finally, we conducted a double-blind clinical trial in patients with malignant glial tumors, using contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging to quantitatively assess blood– brain barrier permeability. We demonstrate the safety of stimulation that efficiently increased blood– brain barrier permeability in 10 of 15 patients with malignant glial tumors. We suggest a novel mechanism for the bidirectional modulation of brain vascular permeability toward increased drug delivery and prevention of delayed complications in brain disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7727-7739
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number29
StatePublished - 20 Jul 2016


  • Blood–brain barrier
  • Glutamate
  • Imaging
  • N-methyl-D-aspartate
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)


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