We have used an in vitro model system to probe the iron transport pathway across the brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMVEC) of the blood-brain barrier (BBB). This model consists of human BMVEC (hBMVEC) and C6 glioma cells (as an astrocytic cell line) grown in a transwell, a cell culture system commonly used to quantify metabolite flux across a cell-derived barrier. We found that iron efflux from hBMVEC through the ferrous iron permease ferroportin (Fpn) was stimulated by secretion of the soluble form of the multi-copper ferroxidase, ceruloplasmin (sCp) from the co-cultured C6 cells. Reciprocally, expression of sCp mRNA in the C6 cells was increased by neighboring hBMVEC. In addition, data indicate that C6 cell-secreted hepcidin stimulates internalization of hBMVEC Fpn but only when the end-feet projections characteristic of this glia-derived cell line are proximal to the endothelial cells. This hepcidin-dependent loss of Fpn correlated with knock-down of iron efflux from the hBMVEC; this result was consistent with the mechanism by which hepcidin regulates iron efflux in mammalian cells. In summary, the data support a model of iron trafficking across the BBB in which the capillary endothelium induce the underlying astrocytes to produce the ferroxidase activity needed to support Fpn-mediated iron efflux. Reciprocally, astrocyte proximity modulates the effective concentration of hepcidin at the endothelial cell membrane and thus the surface expression of hBMVEC Fpn. These results are independent of the source of hBMVEC iron (transferrin or non-transferrin bound) indicating that the model developed here is broadly applicable to brain iron homeostasis.
McCarthy, R. C., & Kosman, D. J. (2014). Glial cell ceruloplasmin and hepcidin differentially regulate iron efflux from brain microvascular endothelial cells. PLoS ONE, 9(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0089003