Blood vessels are well-known for their essential role in supplying oxygen and nutrients to developing organs and sustaining organ function throughout life.
However, recent studies from multiple fields have demonstrated that blood vessels, even prior to the onset of blood flow, provide important developmental signals to promote cell differentiation and organ formation in the embryo.
Work from the De Falco lab has shown that blood vessels and their associated cell types, such as pericytes and perivascular cells, play several critical roles in gonadal development. Using mouse models and organ culture methods to track blood vessels and to disrupt their growth to test their functions in organ formation, we have demonstrated that blood vessels are required for generating proper structure of the fetal testis and for establishing a niche for stem cells in the developing testis and ovary.
Furthermore, we have shown that perivascular cells, which are cells that are specifically maintained next to blood vessels, have the potential to give rise to multiple cell types in the gonad, including cells that produce important sex steroid hormones that support fertility. This research has revealed many unexpected, but critical, roles for blood vessels in gonad differentiation and function.