Molecular and Spatial Signatures of Mouse Embryonic Endothelial Cells at Single-Cell Resolution

Jian Chen, Xiaoran Zhang, Daniel Morris DeLaughter, Michael A. Trembley, Shaila Saifee, Feng Xiao, Jiehui Chen, Pingzhu Zhou, Christine E. Seidman, Jonathan G. Seidman and William T. Pu
Circulation Research (2024)


Mature endothelial cells (ECs) are heterogeneous, with subtypes defined by tissue origin and position within the vascular bed (ie, artery, capillary, vein, and lymphatic). How this heterogeneity is established during the development of the vascular system, especially arteriovenous specification of ECs, remains incompletely characterized.

We used droplet-based single-cell RNA sequencing and multiplexed error-robust fluorescence in situ hybridization to define EC and EC progenitor subtypes from E9.5, E12.5, and E15.5 mouse embryos. We used trajectory inference to analyze the specification of arterial ECs (aECs) and venous ECs (vECs) from EC progenitors. Network analysis identified candidate transcriptional regulators of arteriovenous differentiation, which we tested by CRISPR loss of function in human-induced pluripotent stem cells undergoing directed differentiation to arterial or vECs (human-induced pluripotent stem cell-aECs or human-induced pluripotent stem cell-vECs).

From the single-cell transcriptomes of 7682 E9.5 to E15.5 ECs, we identified 19 EC subtypes, including Etv2+Bnip3+ EC progenitors. Spatial transcriptomic analysis of 15 448 ECs provided orthogonal validation of these EC subtypes and established their spatial distribution. Most embryonic ECs were grouped by their vascular-bed types, while ECs from the brain, heart, liver, and lung were grouped by their tissue origins. Arterial (Eln, Dkk2, Vegfc, and Egfl8), venous (Fam174b and Clec14a), and capillary (Kcne3) marker genes were identified. Compared with aECs, embryonic vECs and capillary ECs shared fewer markers than their adult counterparts. Early capillary ECs with venous characteristics as a branch point for differentiation of aEC and vEC lineages.

Our results provide a spatiotemporal map of embryonic EC heterogeneity at single-cell resolution and demonstrate that the diversity of ECs in the embryo arises from both tissue origin and vascular-bed position. Developing aECs and vECs share common venous-featured capillary precursors and are regulated by distinct transcriptional regulatory networks.