Immunostaining with endothelial and pericyte markers was used to evaluate the cellular composition of angiogenic sprouts in several types of tumors and in the developing retina. Confocal microscopy revealed that, in addition to conventional endothelial tubes heavily invested by pericytes, all tissues contained small populations of endothelium-free pericyte tubes in which nerve/glial antigen 2 (NG2) positive, platelet-derived growth factor beta (PDGF beta ) receptor-positive perivascular cells formed the lumen of the microvessel. Perfusion of tumor-bearing mice with FITC-dextran, followed by immunohistochemical staining of tumor vasculature, demonstrated direct apposition of pericytes to FITC-dextran in the lumen, confirming functional connection of the pericyte tube to the circulation. Transplantation of prostate and mammary tumor fragments into NG2-null mice led to the formation of tumor microvasculature that was invariably NG2-negative, demonstrating that pericytes associated with tumor microvessels are derived from the host rather than from the conversion of tumor cells to a pericyte phenotype. The existence of pericyte tubes reflects the early participation of pericytes in the process of angiogenic sprouting. The ability to study these precocious contributions of pericytes to neovascularization depends heavily on the use of NG2 and PDGF beta -receptor as reliable early markers for activated pericytes.