Pericytes are pluripotent cells found in the vascular wall of both capillaries and large blood vessels. Pericytes are highly heterogeneous cells in terms of phenotype, tissue distribution, origin and functions, and they play an important role in the regulation of vascular morphogenesis and function. Pericytes were shown to be involved in tissue development and homeostasis, as well as in pathological processes, including atherosclerosis. Both microvascular and macrovascular pericytes form the cellular network of the arterial wall and are actively involved in lipid accumulation, growth, and neovascularization of the atherosclerotic plaque, local inflammation and thrombosis. According to current understanding, pericytes originate from the multipotent stem cells capable of mesenchymal differentiation to oligopotent lineages, such as osteoclasts, chondrocytes, and adipocytes, and also serve as mesenchymal local progenitors in tissues. Pericyte multilineage potential is fundamental for vascular pathology, including atherosclerotic lesion formation. Pericytes express various surface proteins that can be used for their identification in aid of diagnosis and therapeutic strategies for atherosclerosis and other vascular pathologies.
Keywords: Angiogenesis; Atherosclerosis; Blood vessels; Cardiovascular diseases; Differentiation; Endothelial cells; Endothelial dysfunction; Foam cells; Low-density lipids; Mesenchymal stem cells; Pericyte; Vascular smooth muscle cells.