Smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts of the coronary arteries derive from epithelial-mesenchymal transformation of the epicardium

Anat Embryol (Berl). 1999 Apr;199(4):367-78. doi: 10.1007/s004290050235.


Previous research has revealed that cells contributing to coronary vascular formation are derived from the dorsal mesocardium, however, the fate of these cells during consecutive stages of heart development is still unclear. We have conducted a study regarding the recruitment of vascular components and the subsequent differentiation into mature vessel wall structures with the aid of immunohistochemical markers directed against endothelium, smooth muscle cells, and fibroblasts. The proepicardial organ including an adhering piece of primordial liver of quail embryos (ranging from HH15 to HH18) was transplanted into the pericardial cavity of chicken embryos (ranging from HH15 to HH18). The chicken-quail chimeras (n=16) were harvested from the early stage of endothelial tube formation (HH25) to the late stage of mature vessel wall composition (HH43). Before HH32 endothelial cells have invaded the myocardium to give rise to yet undifferentiated coronary vessels. These endothelial cells are not accompanied by other non-endothelial cells. The superficial epicardial layer changes from a squamous mesothelium into a cuboid epithelium preceding media and adventitia formation. Subsequently, a condensed area of mesenchymal cells delaminates from the cuboidal lining extending toward the vessel plexus. Around the coronary arteries, these mesenchymal cells differentiate into smooth muscle cells or fibroblasts as shown by immunohistochemical markers. We conclude that epithelial-mesenchymal transformation of the epicardial lining delivers the smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts of the coronary arterial vessel wall. Molecules involved in epithelial transformation processes elsewhere in the embryo are also expressed within the subepicardial layer, and are considered to participate in inducing this process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / analysis
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Calmodulin-Binding Proteins / analysis
  • Cell Movement
  • Chick Embryo
  • Coronary Vessels / chemistry
  • Coronary Vessels / cytology*
  • Coturnix / embryology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / chemistry
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology*
  • Fibroblasts / chemistry
  • Fibroblasts / cytology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mesoderm / chemistry
  • Mesoderm / cytology*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / chemistry
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / cytology*
  • Pericardium / chemistry
  • Pericardium / cytology*
  • Procollagen / analysis
  • Transplantation Chimera


  • Actins
  • Biomarkers
  • Calmodulin-Binding Proteins
  • Procollagen