Pathologies characterized by lipomatous infiltration of craniofacial structures as well as certain forms of lipodystrophies suggest the existence of a distinct adipogenic program in the cephalic region of mammals. Using lineage tracing, we studied the origin of craniofacial adipocytes that accumulate both in cranial fat depots and during ectopic lipomatous infiltration of craniofacial muscles. We found that unlike their counterparts in limb muscle, a significant percentage of cranial adipocytes is derived from the neural crest (NC). In addition, we identified a population of NC-derived Lin(-)/α7(-)/CD34(+)/Sca-1(+) fibro/adipogenic progenitors (NC-FAPs) that resides exclusively in the mesenchyme of cephalic fat and muscle. Comparative analysis of the adipogenic potential, impact on metabolism, and contribution to the regenerative response of NC-FAPs and mesoderm-derived FAPs (M-FAPs) suggests that these cells are functionally indistinguishable. While both NC- and M-FAPs express mesenchymal markers and promyogenic cytokines upon damage-induced activation, NC-FAPs additionally express components of the NC developmental program. Furthermore, we show that craniofacial FAP composition changes with age, with young mice containing FAPs that are almost exclusively of NC origin, while NC-FAPs are progressively replaced by M-FAPs as mice age. Based on these results, we propose that in the adult, ontogenetically distinct FAPs form a diffused system reminiscent of the endothelium, which can originate from multiple developmental intermediates to seed all anatomical locations.
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