Pericyte-Endothelial Interactions in the Retinal Microvasculature

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Oct 8;21(19):7413. doi: 10.3390/ijms21197413.


Retinal microvasculature is crucial for the visual function of the neural retina. Pericytes and endothelial cells (ECs) are the two main cellular constituents in the retinal microvessels. Formation, maturation, and stabilization of the micro-vasculatures require pericyte-endothelial interactions, which are perturbed in many retinal vascular disorders, such as retinopathy of prematurity, retinal vein occlusion, and diabetic retinopathy. Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of pericyte-endothelial interaction and perturbation can facilitate the design of therapeutic intervention for the prevention and treatment of retinal vascular disorders. Pericyte-endothelial interactions are indispensable for the integrity and functionality of retinal neurovascular unit (NVU), including vascular cells, retinal neurons, and glial cells. The essential autocrine and paracrine signaling pathways, such as Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), Platelet-derived growth factor subunit B (PDGFB), Notch, Angipointein, Norrin, and Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β), have been well characterized for the regulation of pericyte-endothelial interactions in the neo-vessel formation processes (vasculogenesis and angiogenesis) during embryonic development. They also play a vital role in stabilizing and remodeling mature vasculature under pathological conditions. Awry signals, aberrant metabolisms, and pathological conditions, such as oxidative stress and inflammation, can disrupt the communication between pericytes and endothelial cells, thereby resulting in the breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier (BRB) and other microangiopathies. The emerging evidence supports extracellular exosomes' roles in the (mis)communications between the two cell types. This review summarizes the essential knowledge and updates about new advancements in pericyte-EC interaction and communication, emphasizing the retinal microvasculature.

Keywords: blood-retinal barrier; diabetic retinopathy; endothelial cells; exosomes; microvasculature; pericytes; placental growth factor; retina; vessel organoids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Retinal Barrier / metabolism
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Exosomes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microvessels / metabolism*
  • Models, Animal
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic
  • Pericytes / metabolism*
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Retinal Vessels / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*