• pericytes;
  • perivascular space;
  • basement membrane;
  • blood–brain barrier;
  • glia limitans


Rouget, in 1873, was the first to describe a population of cells surrounding capillaries, which he regarded as contractile elements. Fifty years later, Zimmermann termed these cells “pericytes” and distinguished three subtypes along the vascular tree. Since then, the discussion concerning the contractile ability of pericytes has never ceased. Current concepts of pericyte biology rather suggest critical roles in the maintenance of homeostasis, blood–brain barrier (BBB) integrity, angiogenesis, and neovascularization. In addition, data from models of brain pathology suggest that novel pericytes are recruited from the bone marrow, but their respective precursor remains enigmatic. Recent data also suggest an important role in the regulation of cerebral blood flow, thus confirming Rouget's original idea. However, comparison of data from different studies is often constrained by the fact that pericytes were questionably identified. Although a clear-cut definition exists, defining pericytes as part of the vascular wall being enclosed in its basement membrane, pericytes are often mixed up with adjacent cell types of the vascular wall, the perivascular space, and the juxtavascular parenchyma. In fact, their identification is difficult—if not impossible—in standard histological sections. An unambiguous distinction, however, is possible at the ultrastructural level and in semi-thin sections, where their location within the vascular basement membrane can be displayed. Using these techniques in combination with immunological staining methods allows demarking their unique morphology and location. Here, we review original papers describing pericytes, briefly outline their topography within the vascular compartments, describe methods for their identification, and summarize current concepts of their function. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.