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The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is a specialized tissue interface that provides an important homeostatic and immunosurveillance role in the CNS. Unlike most microvascular tissues, which readily promote paracellular passage of solutes and macromolecules, the BBB is more analogous to polarized mucosal epithelia that restrict such permeability in order to prevent disease onset. Recent transgenic ablation studies have demonstrated that the BBB and mucosal tissues also share a requirement for astroglial-regulated barrier integrity. This review highlights the emerging concept that astroglia regulate barrier function at markedly different tissue interfaces. It also explores possible lessons that might be learnt by adopting epithelial model paradigms of the BBB. For example, novel glial-derived S-nitrosylation signals that regulate intestinal permeability in the digestive tract might provide new mechanistic insights into the function of the BBB. A better understanding of such universal mechanisms for barrier regulation will facilitate novel therapeutic strategies that target permeability disorders at CNS and mucosal tissue interfaces.
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