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Development. 2004 Jan;131(2):361-75. Epub 2003 Dec 17.

Flow regulates arterial-venous differentiation in the chick embryo yolk sac.

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Department of Physiology, Cardiovascular Research Institute Maastricht (CARIM), Maastricht University, The Netherlands.


Formation of the yolk sac vascular system and its connection to the embryonic circulation is crucial for embryo survival in both mammals and birds. Most mice with mutations in genes involved in vascular development die because of a failure to establish this circulatory loop. Surprisingly, formation of yolk sac arteries and veins has not been well described in the recent literature. Using time-lapse video-microscopy, we have studied arterial-venous differentiation in the yolk sac of chick embryos. Immediately after the onset of perfusion, the yolk sac exhibits a posterior arterial and an anterior venous pole, which are connected to each other by cis-cis endothelial interactions. To form the paired and interlaced arterial-venous pattern characteristic of mature yolk sac vessels, small caliber vessels of the arterial domain are selectively disconnected from the growing arterial tree and subsequently reconnected to the venous system, implying that endothelial plasticity is needed to fashion normal growth of veins. Arterial-venous differentiation and patterning are controlled by hemodynamic forces, as shown by flow manipulation and in situ hybridization with arterial markers ephrinB2 and neuropilin 1, which show that expression of both mRNAs is not genetically determined but plastic and regulated by flow. In vivo application of ephrinB2 or EphB4 in the developing yolk sac failed to produce any morphological effects. By contrast, ephrinB2 and EphB4 application in the allantois of older embryos resulted in the rapid formation of arterial-venous shunts. In conclusion, we show that flow shapes the global patterning of the arterial tree and regulates the activation of the arterial markers ephrinB2 and neuropilin 1.

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