Toward a granular molecular-anatomic map of the blood vasculature – single-cell RNA sequencing makes the leap

  • Christer Betsholtz Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Rudbeck Laboratory, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden; and Department of Medicine-Huddinge, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden
Keywords: Single-cell RNA sequencing, endothelial cells, mural cells, zonation, organotypicity, cell stress


Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) marks the birth of a new era in physiology and medicine. Within foreseeable future, we will know exactly what genes are expressed – and at what levels – in all the different cell types and subtypes that make up our bodies. We will also learn how a particular cell state, whether it occurs during development, tissue repair, or disease, reflects precise changes in gene expression. While profoundly impacting all areas of life science, scRNAseq may lead to a particular leap in vascular biology research. Blood vessels pervade and fulfill essential functions in all organs, but the functions differ. Innumerable organ-specific vascular adaptations and specializations are required. These, in turn, are dictated by differential gene expression by the two principal cellular building blocks of blood vessels: endothelial cells and mural cells. An organotypic vasculature is essential for functions as diverse as thinking, gas exchange, urine excretion, and xenobiotic detoxification in the brain, lung, kidney, and liver, respectively. In addition to the organotypicity, vascular cells also differ along the vascular arterio-venous axis, referred to as zonation, differences that are essential for the regulation of blood pressure and flow. Moreover, gene expression-based molecular changes dictate states of cellular activity, necessary for angiogenesis, vascular permeability, and immune cell trafficking, i.e. functions necessary for development, inflammation, and repair. These different levels of cellular heterogeneity create a nearly infinite phenotypic diversity among vascular cells. In this review, I summarize and exemplify what scRNAseq has brought to the picture in just a few years and point out where it will take us.


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How to Cite
Betsholtz C. (2022). Toward a granular molecular-anatomic map of the blood vasculature – single-cell RNA sequencing makes the leap. Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences, 127(1).
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