PerspectiveCell Biology

Endothelial cell transitions

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Science  16 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6416, pp. 746-747
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9432

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Endothelial cells cover the internal surface of all types of vessels in the body and play a highly specialized role in protecting the vessel wall and the underlying tissues from noxious stimuli. These cells show organ-directed specialization and adapt to the requirements of different organs. However, in pathological conditions—such as inflammation, fibrosis, and atherosclerosis—endothelial cells can change their morphological and functional characteristics and acquire properties of other cell lineages such as fibroblasts, myofibroblasts, smooth muscle cells, and pericytes (which wrap around vessels) in a process called endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT). This change of endothelial phenotype may increase the vascular responses to thrombosis (blood clot), decrease permeability control, and increase fibrotic reactions. In addition, when endothelial cells undergo EndMT, they release abnormal amounts and types of growth factors and extracellular matrix proteins that constitute important mediators in a dysfunctional cross-talk with the surrounding cells. Given the relevance of EndMT in several pathologies, understanding the molecular basis of EndMT could be instrumental for the development of new therapeutic interventions.