The formation of a hierarchical vascular network, composed of arteries, veins, and capillaries, is essential for embryogenesis and is required for the production of new functional vasculature in the adult. Elucidating the molecular mechanisms that orchestrate the differentiation of vascular endothelial cells into arterial and venous cell fates is requisite for regenerative medicine, as the directed formation of perfused vessels is desirable in a myriad of pathological settings, such as in diabetes and following myocardial infarction. Additionally, this knowledge will enhance our understanding and treatment of vascular anomalies, such as arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). From studies in vertebrate model organisms, such as mouse, zebrafish, and chick, a number of key signaling pathways have been elucidated that are required for the establishment and maintenance of arterial and venous fates. These include the Hedgehog, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), Transforming Growth Factor-β (TGF-β), Wnt, and Notch signaling pathways. In addition, a variety of transcription factor families acting downstream of, or in concert with, these signaling networks play vital roles in arteriovenous (AV) specification. These include Notch and Notch-regulated transcription factors (e.g., HEY and HES), SOX factors, Forkhead factors, β-Catenin, ETS factors, and COUP-TFII. It is becoming apparent that AV specification is a highly coordinated process that involves the intersection and carefully orchestrated activity of multiple signaling cascades and transcriptional networks. This review will summarize the molecular mechanisms that are involved in the acquisition and maintenance of AV fate, and will highlight some of the limitations in our current knowledge of the molecular machinery that directs AV morphogenesis.
Keywords: ETS; Vegf; Notch; artery; vasculogenesis; vein.
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.