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Endothelial-pericyte interactions in angiogenesis


It takes two to make blood vessels—endothelial cells and pericytes. While the endothelial cells are the better characterized of the two, pericytes are now coming into focus as important regulators of angiogenesis and blood vessel function, and as potential drug targets. However, pericytes are still surrounded by much controversy. They are difficult to define, they constitute a heterogeneous population of cells, and their ontogeny is not well understood. They are plastic and have the capacity to differentiate into other mesenchymal cell types, such as smooth muscle cells, fibroblasts and osteoblasts. Recent interest in pericytes also stems from their potential involvement in diseases such as diabetic microangiopathy, tissue fibrosis, cancer, atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. The present review focuses on the role of pericytes in physiological angiogenesis. The currently favored view states that the initial endothelial tubes form without pericyte contact, and that subsequent acquisition of pericyte coverage leads to vessel remodeling, maturation and stabilization. Improved means of identifying and visualizing pericytes now challenge this view and show that high numbers of pericytes invest in actively sprouting and remodeling vessels. Genetic data demonstrate the critical importance of pericytes for vascular morphogenesis and function, and imply specific roles for the cell type in various aspects of angiogenesis.

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Fig. 1a–h.


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The authors thank Mats Hellström and Alexandra Abramsson for providing tissue specimens for Fig. 1a,b.

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Correspondence to Christer Betsholtz.

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The images were captured using a Leica confocal microscope, the purchase of which was made possible though a generous grant from the IngaBritt and Arne Lundberg's Research Foundation

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Gerhardt, H., Betsholtz, C. Endothelial-pericyte interactions in angiogenesis. Cell Tissue Res 314, 15–23 (2003).

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  • Endothelial-pericyte interactions
  • Angiogenesis
  • Endothelial cells
  • Pericytes
  • Genetic data
  • Vascular morphogenesis