Endothelial Wnt/β-catenin signaling reduces immune cell infiltration in multiple sclerosis

Justin E. Lengfeld, Sarah E. Lutz, Julian R. Smith, Claudiu Diaconu, Cameron Scott, Sigal B. Kofman, Claire Choi, Craig M. Walsh, Cedric S. Raine, Ilir Agalliu, Dritan Agalliu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Disruption of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a defining and early feature of multiple sclerosis (MS) that directly damages the central nervous system (CNS), promotes immune cell infiltration, and influences clinical outcomes. There is an urgent need for new therapies to protect and restore BBB function, either by strengthening endothelial tight junctions or suppressing endothelial vesicular transcytosis. Although wingless integrated MMTV (Wnt)/β-catenin signaling plays an essential role in BBB formation and maintenance in healthy CNS, its role in BBB repair in neurologic diseases such as MS remains unclear. Using a Wnt/β-catenin reporter mouse and several downstream targets, we demonstrate that the Wnt/β-catenin pathway is up-regulated in CNS endothelial cells in both human MS and the mouse model experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). Increased Wnt/β-catenin activity in CNS blood vessels during EAE progression correlates with up-regulation of neuronal Wnt3 expression, as well as breakdown of endothelial cell junctions. Genetic inhibition of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway in CNS endothelium before disease onset exacerbates the clinical presentation of EAE, CD4+ T-cell infiltration into the CNS, and demyelination by increasing expression of vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and the transcytosis protein Caveolin-1 and promoting endothelial transcytosis. However, Wnt signaling attenuation does not affect the progressive degradation of tight junction proteins or paracellular BBB leakage. These results suggest that reactivation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in CNS vessels during EAE/MS partially restores functional BBB integrity and limits immune cell infiltration into the CNS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1168-E1177
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 14 2017


  • Blood-brain barrier
  • EAE
  • Endothelial cell
  • MS
  • Wnt/β-catenin signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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