Vascular endothelial cells play essential roles in the function and development of the cardiovascular system. However, due to the lack of lineage-specific markers suitable for molecular and biochemical analyses, very little is known about the molecular mechanisms that regulate endothelial cell differentiation. We report the first vascular endothelial cell lineage-specific (including angioblastic precursor cells) 1.2 kb promoter in transgenic mice. Moreover, deletion analysis of this promoter region in transgenic embryos revealed multiple elements that are required for the maximum endothelial cell lineage-specific expression. This is a powerful molecular tool that will enable us to identify factors and cellular signals essential for the establishment of vascular endothelial cell lineage. It will also allow us to deliver genes specifically into this cell type in vivo to test specifically molecules that have been implicated in cardiovascular development. Furthermore, we have established embryonic stem (ES) cells from the blastocysts of the transgenic mouse that carry the 1.2 kb promoter-LacZ reporter transgene. These ES cells were able to differentiate in vitro to form cystic embryoid bodies (CEB) that contain endothelial cells determined by PECAM immunohistochemistry. However, these in vitro differentiated endothelial cells did not express the LacZ reporter gene. This indicates the lack of factors and/or cellular interactions which are required to induce the expression of the reporter gene mediated by this 1.2 kb promoter in this in vitro differentiation system. Thus this system will allow us to screen for the putative inducers that exist in vivo but not in vitro. These putative inducers are presumably important for in vivo differentiation of vascular endothelial cells.

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