Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 21693521
Development 2011 Jul;138(14):3055-66
Vessels are primarily formed from an inner endothelial layer that is secondarily covered by mural cells, namely vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) in arteries and veins and pericytes in capillaries and veinules. We previously showed that, in the mouse embryo, Msx1(lacZ) and Msx2(lacZ) are expressed in mural cells and in a few endothelial cells. To unravel the role of Msx genes in vascular development, we have inactivated the two Msx genes specifically in mural cells by combining the Msx1(lacZ), Msx2(lox) and Sm22α-Cre alleles. Optical projection tomography demonstrated abnormal branching of the cephalic vessels in E11.5 mutant embryos. The carotid and vertebral arteries showed an increase in caliber that was related to reduced vascular smooth muscle coverage. Taking advantage of a newly constructed Msx1(CreERT2) allele, we demonstrated by lineage tracing that the primary defect lies in a population of VSMC precursors. The abnormal phenotype that ensues is a consequence of impaired BMP signaling in the VSMC precursors that leads to downregulation of the metalloprotease 2 (Mmp2) and Mmp9 genes, which are essential for cell migration and integration into the mural layer. Improper coverage by VSMCs secondarily leads to incomplete maturation of the endothelial layer. Our results demonstrate that both Msx1 and Msx2 are required for the recruitment of a population of neural crest-derived VSMCs.