Lung Pericytes in Pulmonary Vascular Physiology and Pathophysiology

Compr Physiol. 2021 Jun 30;11(3):2227-2247. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c200027.


Pericytes are mesenchymal-derived mural cells localized within the basement membrane of pulmonary and systemic capillaries. Besides structural support, pericytes control vascular tone, produce extracellular matrix components, and cytokines responsible for promoting vascular homeostasis and angiogenesis. However, pericytes can also contribute to vascular pathology through the production of pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrotic cytokines, differentiation into myofibroblast-like cells, destruction of the extracellular matrix, and dissociation from the vessel wall. In the lung, pericytes are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the alveolar-capillary membrane and coordinating vascular repair in response to injury. Loss of pericyte communication with alveolar capillaries and a switch to a pro-inflammatory/pro-fibrotic phenotype are common features of lung disorders associated with vascular remodeling, inflammation, and fibrosis. In this article, we will address how to differentiate pericytes from other cells, discuss the molecular mechanisms that regulate the interactions of pericytes and endothelial cells in the pulmonary circulation, and the experimental tools currently used to study pericyte biology both in vivo and in vitro. We will also discuss evidence that links pericytes to the pathogenesis of clinically relevant lung disorders such as pulmonary hypertension, idiopathic lung fibrosis, sepsis, and SARS-COVID. Future studies dissecting the complex interactions of pericytes with other pulmonary cell populations will likely reveal critical insights into the origin of pulmonary diseases and offer opportunities to develop novel therapeutics to treat patients afflicted with these devastating disorders. © 2021 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 11:2227-2247, 2021.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Endothelial Cells
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Pericytes*
  • SARS-CoV-2