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Tex Heart Inst J. 2002;29(4):243-9.

Cellular precursors of the coronary arteries.

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Department of Animal Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Málaga, Málaga, Spain.


Coronary vessels develop from a primary vascular network that differentiates in the subepicardium through a process of vasculogenesis, that is, self-assembly of mesenchymal vascular progenitors. Further growth of the subepicardial vascular plexus through a complex process of angiogenesis, vascular remodeling, and arterialization of specific branches gives rise to the definitive coronary system. This report is intended to summarize current knowledge on the origin of the coronary vascular progenitors and to provide new insights suggested by recent findings. It has been established that the mesenchymal precursors of the vascular smooth muscle cells and the adventitial fibroblasts originate from an epithelial-mesenchymal transformation of the epicardial mesothelium. We report herein experimental evidence that the precursors of the coronary endothelium are also epicardium-derived cells (EPDCs). The evidence shown includes co-localization of mesothelial and endothelial molecular markers as well as cell lineage studies performed through direct labeling of the epicardial cells. If this proposal is confirmed, the early EPDCs might be found to have a competence similar to that shown by the recently discovered bipotential vascular progenitor cells, which are able to differentiate into endothelium or smooth muscle depending on their exposure to VEGF or PDGF-BB. It is conceivable that the earliest EPDCs differentiate into endothelial cells in response to myocardially secreted VEGF, while subsequent EPDCs, recruited by the nascent capillaries via PDGFRbeta signaling, differentiate into percytes and smooth muscle cells.

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