Vascular endothelial cell specification in health and disease

There are two vascular networks in mammals that coordinately function as the main supply and drainage systems of the body. The blood vasculature carries oxygen, nutrients, circulating cells, and soluble factors to and from every tissue. The lymphatic vasculature maintains interstitial fluid homeostasis, transports hematopoietic cells for immune surveillance, and absorbs fat from the gastrointestinal tract. These vascular systems consist of highly organized networks of specialized vessels including arteries, veins, capillaries, and lymphatic vessels that exhibit different structures and cellular composition enabling distinct functions. All vessels are composed of an inner layer of endothelial cells that are in direct contact with the circulating fluid; therefore, they are the first responders to circulating factors. However, endothelial cells are not homogenous; rather, they are a heterogenous population of specialized cells perfectly designed for the physiological demands of the vessel they constitute. This review provides an overview of the current knowledge of the specification of arterial, venous, capillary, and lymphatic endothelial cell identities during vascular development. We also discuss how the dysregulation of these processes can lead to vascular malformations, and therapeutic approaches that have been developed for their treatment.