Imaging the construction of capillary networks in the neonatal mouse brain

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Jun 29;118(26):e2100866118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2100866118.


Capillary networks are essential for distribution of blood flow through the brain, and numerous other homeostatic functions, including neurovascular signal conduction and blood-brain barrier integrity. Accordingly, the impairment of capillary architecture and function lies at the root of many brain diseases. Visualizing how brain capillary networks develop in vivo can reveal innate programs for cerebrovascular growth and repair. Here, we use longitudinal two-photon imaging through noninvasive thinned skull windows to study a burst of angiogenic activity during cerebrovascular development in mouse neonates. We find that angiogenesis leading to the formation of capillary networks originated exclusively from cortical ascending venules. Two angiogenic sprouting activities were observed: 1) early, long-range sprouts that directly connected venules to upstream arteriolar input, establishing the backbone of the capillary bed, and 2) short-range sprouts that contributed to expansion of anastomotic connectivity within the capillary bed. All nascent sprouts were prefabricated with an intact endothelial lumen and pericyte coverage, ensuring their immediate perfusion and stability upon connection to their target vessels. The bulk of this capillary expansion spanned only 2 to 3 d and contributed to an increase of blood flow during a critical period in cortical development.

Keywords: angiogenesis; brain; capillary; pericyte; venule.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Arterioles / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Capillaries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Capillaries / growth & development
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Pericytes / cytology
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins