The molecular differences between arteries and veins are genetically predetermined and are evident even before the first embryonic heart beat. Although ephrinB2 and EphB4 are expressed in cells that will ultimately differentiate into arteries and veins respectively, many other genes have been shown to play a significant role in cell fate determination. The expression patterns of ephrinB2 and EphB4 are restricted to arterial-venous boundaries, and Eph/ephrin signaling provides repulsive cues at arterial-venous boundaries that are thought to prevent intermixing of arterial- and venous-fated cells. However, the maintenance of arterial-venous fate is susceptible to some degree of plasticity. Thus, in response to signals from the ambient microenvironment and shear stress, there is flow-mediated intercalation of the arteries and veins that ultimately leads to the formation of a functional, closed-loop circulation. In addition, cells in the blood vessels of each organ undergo epigenetic, morphologic and functional adaptive changes that are specific to the proximate function of their cognate organ(s). These adaptive changes result in an inter-organ and intra-organ vessel heterogeneity that manifest clinically in a disparate response of different organs to identical risk factors and injury in the same animal. In this review, we will focus on the molecular and physiologic factors influencing arterial-venous heterogeneity between and within different organ(s). We will explore arterial-venous differences in selected organs as well as their respective endothelial cell architectural organization that results in their inter- and intra-organ heterogeneity.
Keywords: molecular heterogeneity, arterial-venous specification, vascular development