Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Michal Toborek


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a dynamic interface, mainly consisting of highly specialized brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs) that segregate the central nervous system (CNS) from the peripheral circulation. Impairment of the BBB, due to disruption of tight junction (TJ) proteins and inflammatory responses, may initiate and/or contribute to the progress of CNS disorders, including stroke. Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide. It has been shown that aging and environmental pollutants can induce brain endothelium dysfunction, and are considered as risk factors for stroke.

Deficiency of telomerase is highly linked with aging-associated vascular diseases. Evidence indicates that patients with shorter telomere length are at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. Results in this dissertation address the influence of telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), a key component of telomerase, on the BBB integrity in the context of ischemic stroke induced brain injury. Our results indicate that aging-related BBB alterations aggregate the stroke outcomes by inducing oxidative stress and stimulating proinflammatory responses on the brain microvessels.

The ability of the BBB to protect the brain from harmful compounds indicates that the BBB may be targeted by chemical toxicants in the peripheral circulation. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are persistent organic pollutants that frequently bind to nanoparticles (NPs) in the environment. Our results demonstrate that binding PCB153, one of the most abundant PCB congeners in the environment, to silica nanoparticles (PCB153-NPs) potentiates cerebrovascular toxicity and stroke outcomes via stimulation of inflammatory responses and disruption of BBB integrity. These events are mediated by activation of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), which subsequently recruits tumor necrosis factor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6) and initiates the production of multiple inflammatory mediators.

Research presented in this dissertation demonstrates that aging and environmental pollutants play crucial roles in modifying the function of the BBB through alterations of inflammatory responses and TJ protein expression, which further contribute to the progression of stroke-induced cerebral ischemic injury.