Author(s): Bailey AS
Classical studies of the developing embryo first suggested the existence of the hemangioblast, a precursor cell with the potential to differentiate into both blood and blood vessels. Several lines of investigation demonstrated that many of the genes activated during early hematopoietic development are also expressed in the vascular endothelium. Gene-targeting studies using embryonic stem cells have identified Flk-1, SCL, and Runx-1 as important regulatory molecules that specify both hematopoietic and vascular outcomes. Although it was anticipated that the hemangioblast would be present only during the earliest stages of vascular development in the yolk sac, accumulating evidence now indicates that hematopoietic cells with hemangioblast activity persist into adulthood. In the adult, bone marrow-derived, circulating endothelial progenitors contribute to postnatal neovascularization and enhance vascular repair following ischemic injury. Highly purified populations of hematopoietic stem cells from humans and mice can differentiate into both blood cells and vascular tissue at the single cell level. These recent findings suggest that bone marrow-derived hematopoietic stem cells or their progeny may contribute to the maintenance and repair of both the hematopoietic and the vascular systems during adult life.