Vascular establishment is one of the early events in embryogenesis. It is believed that vessel-initiating endothelial progenitors cluster to form the first primitive vessel. Understanding the molecular identity of these progenitors is crucial in order to elucidate lineage hierarchy. In this study, we identify protein C receptor (Procr) as an endothelial progenitor marker and investigate the role of Procr+ progenitors during embryonic vascular development. Using a ProcrmGFP-2A-lacZ reporter, we reveal a much earlier Procr expression (embryonic day 7.5) than previously acknowledged (embryonic day 13.5). Genetic fate-mapping experiments using ProcrCre and ProcrCreER demonstrate that Procr+ cells give rise to blood vessels throughout the entire embryo proper. Single-cell RNA-sequencing analyses place Procr+ cells at the start of endothelial commitment and maturation. Furthermore, targeted ablation of Procr+ cells results in failure of vessel formation and early embryonic lethality. Notably, genetic fate mapping and scRNA-seq pseudotime analysis support the view that Procr+ progenitors can give rise to hemogenic endothelium. In this study, we establish a Procr expression timeline and identify Procr+ vessel-initiating progenitors, and demonstrate their indispensable role in establishment of the vasculature during embryo development.

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