The brain is made of billions of highly metabolically active neurons whose activities provide the seat for cognitive, affective, sensory and motor functions. The cerebral vasculature meets the brain's unusually high demand for oxygen and glucose by providing it with the largest blood supply of any organ. Accordingly, disorders of the cerebral vasculature, such as congenital vascular malformations, stroke and tumors, compromise neuronal function and survival and often have crippling or fatal consequences. Yet, the assembly of the cerebral vasculature is a process that remains poorly understood. Here we exploit the physical and optical accessibility of the zebrafish embryo to characterize cerebral vascular development within the embryonic hindbrain. We find that this process is primarily driven by endothelial cell migration and follows a two-step sequence. First, perineural vessels with stereotypical anatomies are formed along the ventro-lateral surface of the neuroectoderm. Second, angiogenic sprouts derived from a subset of perineural vessels migrate into the hindbrain to form the intraneural vasculature. We find that these angiogenic sprouts reproducibly penetrate into the hindbrain via the rhombomere centers, where differentiated neurons reside, and that specific rhombomeres are invariably vascularized first. While the anatomy of intraneural vessels is variable from animal to animal, some aspects of the connectivity of perineural and intraneural vessels occur reproducibly within particular hindbrain locales. Using a chemical inhibitor of VEGF signaling we determine stage-specific requirements for this pathway in the formation of the hindbrain vasculature. Finally, we show that a subset of hindbrain vessels is aligned and/or in very close proximity to stereotypical neuron clusters and axon tracts. Using endothelium-deficient cloche mutants we show that the endothelium is dispensable for the organization and maintenance of these stereotypical neuron clusters and axon tracts in the early hindbrain. However, the cerebellum's upper rhombic lip and the optic tectum are abnormal in clo. Overall, this study provides a detailed, multi-stage characterization of early zebrafish hindbrain neurovascular development with cellular resolution up to the third day of age. This work thus serves as a useful reference for the neurovascular characterization of mutants, morphants and drug-treated embryos.
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