The neurovascular unit (NVU) is an anatomical group of cells that establishes the blood–brain barrier (BBB) and coordinates cerebral blood flow in association with neuronal function. In cerebral gray matter, cellular constituents of the NVU include endothelial cells and associated pericytes, astrocytes, neurons, and microglia. Dysfunction of the NVU is a common feature of diseases that affect the CNS, such as ischemic stroke. High-level evaluation of these NVU changes requires the use of imaging modalities that can enable the visualization of various cell types under disease conditions. In this study, we applied our confocal microscopy strategy using commercially available labeling reagents to, for the first time, simultaneously investigate associations between endothelial cells, the vascular basal lamina, pericytes, microglia, astrocytes and/or astrocyte end-feet, and neurites in both healthy and ischemic brain tissue. This allowed us to demonstrate ischemia-induced astrocyte activation, neurite loss, and microglial migration toward blood vessels in a single confocal image. Furthermore, our labeling cocktail enabled a precise quantification of changes in neurites and astrocyte reactivity, thereby showing the relationship between different NVU cellular constituents in healthy and diseased brain tissue. The application of our imaging approach for the simultaneous visualization of multiple NVU cell types provides an enhanced understanding of NVU function and pathology, a state-of-the-art advancement that will facilitate the development of more effective treatment strategies for diseases of the CNS that exhibit neurovascular dysfunction, such as ischemic stroke.
- endothelial cells
- ischemic stroke
- neurovascular unit
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)