Abstract

Blood vessels are composed of two interacting cell types. Endothelial cells form the inner lining of the vessel wall, and perivascular cells—referred to as pericytes, vascular smooth muscle cells or mural cells—envelop the surface of the vascular tube. Over the last decades, studies of blood vessels have concentrated mainly on the endothelial cell component, especially when the first angiogenic factors were discovered, while the interest in pericytes has lagged behind. Pericytes are, however, functionally significant; when vessels lose pericytes, they become hemorrhagic and hyperdilated, which leads to conditions such as edema, diabetic retinopathy, and even embryonic lethality. Recently, pericytes have gained new attention as functional and critical contributors to tumor angiogenesis and therefore as potential new targets for antiangiogenic therapies. Pericytes are complex. Their ontogeny is not completely understood, and they perform various functions throughout the body. This review article describes the current knowledge about the nature of pericytes and their functions during vessel growth, vessel maintenance, and pathological angiogenesis.

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