The cerebral capillary endothelium is unique and functions as an effective blood-brain barrier (BBB) owing to its intercellular tight junctions and rare pinocytotic vesicles. To assess how bacterial meningitis alters the BBB, rats were inoculated intracisternally with three encapsulated meningeal pathogens (Escherichia coli K1+, Streptococcus pneumoniae type III, Haemophilus influenzae type b) and an unencapsulated mutant strain (H. influenzae Rd). After defined infection durations, the morphologic alterations of the cerebral capillary endothelium were quantitatively assessed by transmission electron microscopy. Results revealed a significant increase in pinocytotic vesicle formation (P less than 0.001) early after meningitis induction (4 h) that was sustained with longer infection durations (10 h, 18 h) for all encapsulated strains tested. In addition, there was a progressive increase in completely separated intercellular junctions with increasing infection duration, (P less than 0.05). 4 h after induction of meningitis with H. influenzae Rd, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) bacterial concentrations, cerebral capillary morphologic changes, and functional BBB permeability to circulating 125I-albumin were similar to those observed with H. influenzae type b. However, prolonging the H. influenzae Rd infection to 18 h allowed for CSF clearance of the organism, thereby precluding the significant increase in separated junctions or progression of functional BBB permeability seen with the encapsulated H. influenzae type b. These data suggest a uniform morphologic explanation for altered BBB permeability in meningitis with a reproducible temporal sequence. Encapsulation does not appear essential for BBB injury, but may facilitate its progression by allowing the organism to evade host clearance.
V J Quagliarello, W J Long, W M Scheld