1UMR7622, UPMC Paris VI, Paris, France, 2Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille, Laboratoire de Biologie du Développement, Villeneuve d'Ascq, France and 3The Institute of Medical Science, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
We review here the development of the hematopoietic system and its relationship to the endothelium, with a special focus on the characterisation of the hemangioblast, the putative ancestor for endothelial cells and hematopoietic cells. Using the avian model, we have traced in vivo the progeny of embryonic endothelial cells and shown that aortic-born hematopoietic cells (known to generate the definitive hematopoietic lineage) derive from endothelial cells in the floor of the aorta. During this process, endothelial cells undergo a switch from endothelial cells to hematopoietic cells characterised by a downgrading of endothelial cell-specific genes and the parallel upgrading of hematopoietic cell-specific genes. Using a similar approach, we have shown that generation of hematopoietic cells from endothelial cells also takes place during mouse embryonic development. We have thoroughly characterised the dynamics of key molecules (several of which we have cloned) specifically expressed by the yolk sac or aortic hemangioblast. The yolk sac hemangioblast is characterized by the specific expression of SCL/Tal-1 and Lmo2, whereas the aortic hemangioblast expresses Runx-1 (a runt domain transcription factor). Finally, we have demonstrated the existence of a new site for hematopoiesis, namely the allantois. Using quail/chick grafts, we show that this embryonic appendage autonomously produces endothelial cells and hematopoietic cells, these latter being endowed with the attributes of the definitive hematopoietic lineage.