The zebrafish is an outstanding model for studying vascular biology in vivo. Pericytes and vascular smooth muscle cells can be imaged as they associate with vessels and provide stability and integrity to the vasculature. In zebrafish, pericytes associate with the cerebral and trunk vasculature on the second day of development, as assayed by pdgfrβ and notch3 markers. In the head, cerebral pericytes are neural crest derived, except for the pericytes of the hindbrain vasculature, which are mesoderm derived. Similar to the hindbrain, pericytes on the trunk vasculature are also mesoderm derived. Regardless of their location, pericyte development depends on a complex interaction between blood flow and signalling pathways, such as Notch, SONIC HEDGEHOG and BMP signalling, all of which positively regulate pericyte numbers.Pericyte numbers rapidly increase as development proceeds in order to stabilize both the blood-brain barrier and the vasculature and hence, prevent haemorrhage. Consequently, compromised pericyte development results in compromised vascular integrity, which then evolves into detrimental pathologies. Some of these pathologies have been modelled in zebrafish by inducing mutations in the notch3, foxc1 and foxf2 genes. These zebrafish models provide insights into the mechanisms of disease as associated with pericyte biology. Going forward, these models may be key contributors in elucidating the role of vascular mural cells in regulating vessel diameter and hence, blood flow.
Keywords: Mesoderm; Neural crest; Pericytes; Sclerotome; Vascular smooth muscle cells; Zebrafish; acta2; notch3; pdgfrb; tagln.