Pericyte investment into new blood vessels is essential for vascular development such that misregulation within this phase of vessel formation can contribute to numerous pathologies including arteriovenous and cerebrovascular malformations. It is critical therefore to illuminate how angiogenic signaling pathways intersect to regulate pericyte migration and investment. Here, we disrupted vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) signaling in ex vivo and in vitro models of sprouting angiogenesis, and found pericyte coverage to be compromised during VEGF-A perturbations. Pericytes had little to no expression of VEGF receptors, suggesting VEGF-A signaling defects affect endothelial cells directly but pericyte indirectly. Live imaging of ex vivo angiogenesis in mouse embryonic skin revealed limited pericyte migration during exposure to exogenous VEGF-A. During VEGF-A gain-of-function conditions, pericytes and endothelial cells displayed abnormal transcriptional changes within the platelet-derived growth factor-B (PDGF-B) and Notch pathways. To further test potential crosstalk between these pathways in pericytes, we stimulated embryonic pericytes with Notch ligands Delta-like 4 (Dll4) and Jagged-1 (Jag1) and found induction of Notch pathway activity but no changes in PDGF Receptor-β (Pdgfrβ) expression. In contrast, PDGFRβ protein levels decreased with mis-regulated VEGF-A activity, observed in the effects on full-length PDGFRβ and a truncated PDGFRβ isoform generated by proteolytic cleavage or potentially by mRNA splicing. Overall, these observations support a model in which, during the initial stages of vascular development, pericyte distribution and coverage are indirectly affected by endothelial cell VEGF-A signaling and the downstream regulation of PDGF-B-PDGFRβ dynamics, without substantial involvement of pericyte Notch signaling during these early stages.
Vascular pericytes provide critical contributions to the formation and integrity of the blood vessel wall within the microcirculation. Pericytes maintain vascular stability and homeostasis by promoting endothelial cell junctions and depositing extracellular matrix (ECM) components within the vascular basement membrane, among other vital functions. As their importance in sustaining microvessel health within various tissues and organs continues to emerge, so does their role in a number of pathological conditions including cancer, diabetic retinopathy, and neurological disorders. Here, we review vascular pericyte contributions to the development and remodeling of the microcirculation, with a focus on the local microenvironment during these processes. We discuss observations of their earliest involvement in vascular development and essential cues for their recruitment to the remodeling endothelium. Pericyte involvement in the angiogenic sprouting context is also considered with specific attention to crosstalk with endothelial cells such as through signaling regulation and ECM deposition. We also address specific aspects of the collective cell migration and dynamic interactions between pericytes and endothelial cells during angiogenic sprouting. Lastly, we discuss pericyte contributions to mechanisms underlying the transition from active vessel remodeling to the maturation and quiescence phase of vascular development.
Our data support use of this pericyte cell line in a broad range of models to further understand pericyte functionality during normal and pathological conditions.
Capillaries within the microcirculation are essential for oxygen delivery and nutrient/waste exchange, among other critical functions. Microvascular bioengineering approaches have sought to recapitulate many key features of these capillary networks, with an increasing appreciation for the necessity of incorporating vascular pericytes. Here, we briefly review established and more recent insights into important aspects of pericyte identification and function within the microvasculature. We then consider the importance of including vascular pericytes in various bioengineered microvessel platforms including 3D culturing and microfluidic systems. We also discuss how vascular pericytes are a vital component in the construction of computational models that simulate microcirculation phenomena including angiogenesis, microvascular biomechanics, and kinetics of exchange across the vessel wall. In reviewing these topics, we highlight the notion that incorporating pericytes into microvascular bioengineering applications will increase their utility and accelerate the translation of basic discoveries to clinical solutions for vascular-related pathologies.
Background: Vascular pericytes stabilize blood vessels and contribute to their maturation, while playing other key roles in microvascular function. Nevertheless, relatively little is known about involvement of their precursors in the earliest stages of vascular development, specifically during vasculogenesis. Methods: We combined high-power, time-lapse imaging with transcriptional profiling of emerging pericytes and endothelial cells in reporter mouse and cell lines. We also analyzed conditional transgenic animals deficient in Cx43/Gja1 expression within Ng2+ cells. Results: A subset of Ng2-DsRed+ cells, likely pericyte/mural cell precursors, arose alongside endothelial cell differentiation and organization and physically engaged vasculogenic endothelium in vivo and in vitro. We found no overlap between this population of differentiating pericyte/mural progenitors and other lineages including hemangiogenic and neuronal/glial cell types. We also observed cell-cell coupling and identified Cx43 (connexin 43)-based gap junctions contributing to pericyte–endothelial cell precursor communication during vascular assembly. Genetic loss of Cx43/Gja1 in Ng2+ pericyte progenitors compromised embryonic blood vessel formation in a subset of animals, while surviving mutants displayed little-to-no vessel abnormalities, suggesting a resilience to Cx43/Gja1 loss in Ng2+ cells or potential compensation by additional connexin isoforms. Conclusions: Together, our data suggest that a distinct pericyte lineage emerges alongside vasculogenesis and directly communicates with the nascent endothelium via Cx43 during early vessel formation. Cx43/Gja1 loss in pericyte/mural cell progenitors can induce embryonic vessel dysmorphogenesis, but alternate connexin isoforms may be able to compensate. These data provide insight that may reshape the current framework of vascular development and may also inform tissue revascularization/vascularization strategies.
Rationale: Defects in the morphogenesis of the 4th pharyngeal arch arteries (PAAs) give rise to lethal birth defects. Understanding genes and mechanisms regulating PAA formation will provide important insights into the etiology and treatments for congenital heart disease. Objective: Cell-ECM interactions play essential roles in the morphogenesis of PAAs and their derivatives, the aortic arch artery (AAA) and its major branches; however, their specific functions are not well-understood. Previously, we demonstrated that integrin α5β1 and fibronectin (Fn1) expressed in the Isl1 lineages regulate PAA formation. The objective of the current studies was to investigate cellular mechanisms by which integrin α5β1 and Fn1 regulate AAA morphogenesis. Methods and Results: Using temporal lineage tracing, whole-mount confocal imaging, and quantitative analysis of the second heart field (SHF) and endothelial cell (EC) dynamics, we show that the majority of PAA EC progenitors arise by E7.5 in the SHF and contribute to pharyngeal arch endothelium between E7.5 and E9.5. Consequently, SHF-derived ECs in the pharyngeal arches form a uniform plexus of small blood vessels, which remodels into the PAAs by 35 somites. The remodeling of the vascular plexus is orchestrated by signals dependent on the pharyngeal ECM microenvironment, extrinsic to the endothelium. Conditional ablation of integrin α5β1 or Fn1 in the Isl1 lineages showed that signaling by the ECM regulates AAA morphogenesis at multiple steps: 1) accumulation of SHF-derived ECs in the pharyngeal arches, 2) remodeling of the uniform EC plexus in the 4th arches into the PAAs; and 3) differentiation of neural crest-derived cells adjacent to the PAA endothelium into vascular smooth muscle cells. Conclusions: PAA formation is a multi-step process entailing dynamic contribution of SHF-derived ECs to pharyngeal arches, the remodeling of endothelial plexus into the PAAs, and the remodeling of the PAAs into the AAA and its major branches. Cell-ECM interactions regulated by integrin α5β1 and Fn1 play essential roles at each of these developmental stages.
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