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The Vascular Wall as a Source of Stem Cells

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Abstract

Abstract: We have characterized the emerging hematopoietic system in the human embryo and fetus. Two embryonic organs, the yolk sac and aorta, support the primary emergence of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), but only the latter contributes lymphomyeloid stem cells for definitive, adult-type hematopoiesis. A common feature of intra- and extraembryonic hematopoiesis is that in both locations hematopoietic cells emerge in close vicinity to vascular endothelial cells. We have provided evidence that a population of angiohematopoietic mesodermal stem cells, marked by the expression of flk-1 and the novel BB9/ACE antigen, migrate from the paraaortic splanchnopleura into the ventral part of the aorta, where they give rise to hemogenic endothelial cells and, in turn, hematopoietic cells. HSCs also appear to develop from endothelium in the embryonic liver and fetal bone marrow, albeit at a much lower frequency. This would imply that the organism does not function during its whole life on a stock of hematopoietic stem cells established in the early embryo, as is usually accepted. We next examined whether the vessel wall can contribute stem cells for other cell lineages, primarily in the model of adult skeletal muscle regeneration. By immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry, we documented the existence in skeletal muscle, besides genuine endothelial and myogenic cells, of a subset of satellite cells that coexpress endothelial cell markers. This suggested the existence of a continuum of differentiation from vascular cells to endothelial cells that was confirmed in long-term culture. The regenerating capacity of these cells expressing both myogenic and endothelial markers is being investigated in skeletal and cardiac muscle, and the results are being compared with those generated by satellite cells. Altogether, these results point to a generalized progenitor potential of a subset of endothelial, or endothelium-like, cells in blood vessel walls, in pre- and postnatal life.

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