Author(s): Annalisa Pacilli, Gianandrea Pasquinelli
The vessel wall has usually been thought to be relatively quiescent. But the discovery of progenitor cells in many tissues and in the vasculature itself has led to a reconsideration of the vascular biology. The presence of circulating endothelial and smooth muscle progenitors able to home to the injured vascular wall is a firm acquisition; less known is the notion, coming from embryonic and adult tissue studies, that stem cells able to differentiate into endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells also reside in the arterial wall. Moreover, the existence of a vasculogenic zone has recently been identified in adult human arteries; this niche-like zone is believed to act as a source of progenitors for postnatal vasculogenesis. From the literature it is already apparent that a complex interplay between circulating and resident vascular wall progenitors takes place during embryonal and postnatal life; a structural/functional disarray of these intimate stem cell compartments could hamper appropriate vascular repair, the development of vascular wall disease being the direct clinical consequence in adult life. This review gives an overview of adult large vessel progenitors established in the vascular wall during embryogenesis and their role in the maintenance of wall homeostasis.