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Brain microvascular endothelial cells, forming the anatomical site of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), are widely used as in vitro complements to in vivo BBB studies. Among the immortalized cells used as in vitro BBB models, the murine-derived bEnd.3 cells offer culturing consistency and low cost and are well characterized for functional and transport assays, but result in low transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER). Human-induced pluripotent stem cells differentiated into brain microvascular endothelial cells (ihBMECs) have superior barrier properties, but the process of differentiation is time-consuming and can result in mixed endothelial-epithelial gene expression. Here we performed a side-by-side comparison of the ihBMECs and bEnd.3 cells for key paracellular diffusional transport characteristics. The TEER across the ihBMECs was 45- to 68-fold higher than the bEnd.3 monolayer. The ihBMECs had significantly lower tracer permeability than the bEnd.3 cells. Both, however, could discriminate between the paracellular permeabilities of two tracers: sodium fluorescein (MW: 376 Da) and fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)–dextran (MW: 70 kDa). FITC-dextran permeability was a strong inverse-correlate of TEER in the bEnd.3 cells, whereas sodium fluorescein permeability was a strong inverse-correlate of TEER in the ihBMECs. Both bEnd.3 cells and ihBMECs showed the typical cobblestone morphology with robust uptake of acetylated LDL and strong immuno-positivity for vWF. Both models showed strong claudin-5 expression, albeit with differences in expression location. We further confirmed the vascular endothelial- (CD31 and tube-like formation) and erythrophagocytic-phenotypes and the response to inflammatory stimuli of ihBMECs. Overall, both bEnd.3 cells and ihBMECs express key brain endothelial phenotypic markers, and despite differential TEER measurements, these in vitro models can discriminate between the passage of different molecular weight tracers. Our results highlight the need to corroborate TEER measurements with different molecular weight tracers and that the bEnd.3 cells may be suitable for large molecule transport studies despite their low TEER.


This article was originally published in PLoS ONE, volume 17, issue 5, in 2022.


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