The brain’s tiniest blood vessels, capillaries, may impact stroke risk, according to recent studies on mice.

A University of Gothenburg news release reports that the results appear in the journal Developmental Cell and detail how the blood-brain barrier develops and what differentiates the capillaries in the brain from small blood vessels in other organs. Peter Carlsson, professor in genetics at the University of Gothenburg, and his research team published the results, the release says.

The release notes that the capillaries have a type of cell known as pericytes. These are key in the development of the blood brain barrier. Pericytes are also found in other organs, and researchers have previously been unable to pinpoint what gives the brain’s pericytes this unique ability.

The research team reportedly found that the brain’s pericytes contain a protein, FoxF2, which is not present in the pericytes of other organs and which coordinates the changes that make the blood vessels compact. FoxF2, the release says, is key in order for the blood-brain barrier to form during fetal development.

Carlsson, professor at the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology, explains, “Mice that have too little or too much FoxF2 develop various types of defects in the brain’s blood vessels.”

In humans, the release states that researchers have highlighted major changes in a region of chromosome 6, which they say are linked to an increased risk of stroke, but it has been unknown which of the genes in the area are responsible for the risk.

To this end, Carlsson designates FoxF2 as an “extremely interesting candidate, as it is located right in the middle of this region, and research is under way now in collaboration with clinical geneticists to investigate the extent to which variations in the FoxF2 gene affect people’s risk of suffering a stroke.”

[Photo Credit: University of Gothenburg]

[Photo Caption: Capillaries from a mouse brain (the green cells are endothelial cells and the red ones are pericytes)]

[Source: University of Gothenburg]