Endothelial specific deletion of FOXO1 alters pericyte coverage in the developing retina

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2019 Dec 3;520(2):304-310. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2019.10.040. Epub 2019 Oct 8.


Pericytes are mural cells that cover small blood vessels. While defects in pericyte coverage are known to be involved in various vessel related pathologies, including diabetic retinopathy, the molecular mechanisms underlying pericyte coverage are not fully understood. In this study, we investigated the contribution of the forkhead transcription factor FOXO1 in endothelial cells to pericyte coverage in the developing retina. We observed retinal pericytes in tamoxifen-inducible endothelium-specific Foxo1 deletion mice. Tamoxifen was injected at postnatal day 1-3 and the retinas were harvested at P21. Our results demonstrated that Foxo1 deletion in the endothelium affected arteriole pericyte morphology without altering pericyte number, proliferation, and apoptosis. We hypothesized that abnormal pericyte morphogenesis in the knockout retina was caused by impaired pericyte differentiation. FOXO1 silencing by siRNA in the primary artery endothelium further revealed that THBS1 (thrombospondin 1), which promotes pericyte differentiation via TGFβ activation, was reduced in the FOXO1-deficient endothelium. Immunohistochemistry of FOXO1 knockout mice showed reduced numbers of phospho-Smad3+ arteriole pericytes compared with wild-type mice. In addition, endothelium-pericyte co-culture analysis revealed that pericytes cultured with FOXO1-deficient endothelial cells failed to differentiate sufficiently; this failure was partially rescued by the addition of recombinant THBS1 to the supernatant. The findings suggest that endothelial FOXO1 contributes to pericyte differentiation via regulation of THBS1 expression. This study provides new insights into the molecular mechanism of pericyte coverage in the context of endothelium-derived regulation and highlights a new therapeutic target for pericyte-related pathology.

Keywords: Differentiation; Endothelial cells; FOXO; Pericytes; TGFβ1; Thrombospondin 1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelial Cells
  • Forkhead Box Protein O1 / genetics*
  • Forkhead Box Protein O1 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Pericytes / pathology*
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retina / drug effects
  • Retina / growth & development*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • Thrombospondins / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Umbilical Arteries / cytology


  • FOXO1 protein, human
  • Forkhead Box Protein O1
  • Foxo1 protein, mouse
  • Thrombospondins
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • thrombospondin 2
  • Tamoxifen