BEYOND THE ENDOTHELIUM: THE ROLE OF MURAL CELLS IN VASCULAR BIOLOGY: In vitro systems to study endothelial/pericyte cell interactions.
The vasculature is crucial for tissue development and survival, and the stability of blood vessels to perform these functions relies on the interplay between endothelial cells (ECs) and mural cells. Pericytes are a subtype of mural cells found in the microvasculature that extend their processes to wrap around the endothelial monolayer. Pericytes are recruited during vessel growth through the excretion of soluble factors from ECs where they stabilize angiogenic sprouts and induce maturation of the resident cells. Alterations in these interactions between ECs and pericytes are associated with aberrant vessel growth and disrupted vasculature function characteristic of numerous diseases. Therefore, deeper understanding of the cross-talk between these cell types has numerous implications for understanding morphogenesis and elucidating disease mechanisms. In this review, we highlight recent advances and current trends studying the interactions between ECs and pericytes in vitro. We begin by analyzing three-dimensional hydrogel platforms that mimic the tissue extracellular matrix to investigate signaling pathways and altered vascular function in disease-specific cells. We next examine how microfluidic vasculature-on-a-chip platforms have elucidated the interplay of these vascular cells during angiogenesis and vascular network formation under controlled physiochemical cues and interstitial flow. Additionally, studies have utilized microvessels to measure the effect of shear stress on barrier function through the control of luminal flow and the impact of inflammation on these vascular cell interactions. Finally, we briefly highlight self-assembling human blood vessel organoids, an emerging high-throughput platform to study ECs and pericyte interactions.