Pericytes. Morphofunction, interactions and pathology in a quiescent and activated mesenchymal cell niche

Histol Histopathol. 2009 Jul;24(7):909-69. doi: 10.14670/HH-24.909.


We review the morphofunctional characteristics of pericytes and report our observations. After a brief historical background, we consider the following aspects of pericytes: A) Origin in embryonic vasculogenesis (mesenchymal stem cells, neurocrest and other possible sources) and in embryonic and postnatal life angiogenesis (pre-existing pericytes, fibroblast/ myofibroblasts and circulating progenitor cells). B) Location in pericytic microvasculature and in the other blood vessels (including transitional cell forms and absence in lymphatic vessels), incidence (differences depending on species, topographical location, and type and stage of vessels) and distribution (specific polarities) in blood vessels. C) Morphology (cell body, and longitudinal and circumferential cytoplasmic processes), structure (nucleus, cytoplasmic organelles and distribution of microtubules, intermediate filaments and microfilaments) and surface (caveolae system). D) Basement membrane disposition, formation, components and functions. E) Contacts with endothelial cells (ECs) (peg and socket arrangements, adherent junctions and gap junctions) and with basal membrane (adhesion plaques). F) Molecular expression (pericyte marker identification). G) Functions, such as vessel stabilization, regulation of vascular tone and maintenance of local and tissue homeostasis (contractile capacity and vessel permeability regulation), matrix protein synthesis, macrophage-like properties, immunological defense, intervention in coagulation, participation in mechanisms that regulate the quiescent and angiogenic stages of blood vessels (including the behaviour of pericytes during sprouting angiogenesis and intussuceptive vascular growth, as well as pericyte interactions with endothelium and other cells, and with extracellular matrix) and plasticity, as progenitor cells with great mesenchymal potential, originating other pericytes, fibroblast/myofibroblasts, preadipocytes, chondroblasts, osteoblasts, odontoblasts, vascular smooth muscle and myointimal cells. This mesenchymal capacity is seen in a broad section on the perivascular mesenchymal cell niche hypothesis and in the concept of pericyte and EC "marriage and divorce". H) Peculiar pericyte types, such as hepatic stellate cells (Ito cells), bone marrow reticular cells and mesangial cells. I) Involvement in pathological processes, such as repair through granulation tissue, pericyte-derived tumors, tumor angiogenesis and tumoral cell metastasis, diabetic microangiopathy, fibrosis, atherosclerosis and calcific vasculopathy, lymphedema distichiasis, chronic venous insufficiency, pulmonary hypertension, Alzheimer disease and multiple sclerosis. J) Clinical and therapeutic implications (de-stabilization of vessels or formation of a stable vasculature).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Humans
  • Mesoderm / cytology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / physiopathology*
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic / physiology*
  • Pericytes / pathology*
  • Pericytes / physiology*
  • Pericytes / ultrastructure
  • Stem Cells / cytology*


  • Biomarkers