In these studies we have compared the relative amounts and isoforms of tropomyosin in capillary and postcapillary venule pericytes, endothelial cells, and vascular smooth muscle cells in four rat microvascular beds: heart, diaphragm, pancreas, and the intestinal mucosa. The results, obtained by in situ immunoperoxidase localization, indicate that (a) tropomyosin is present in capillary and postcapillary venule pericytes in relatively high concentration; (b) the tropomyosin content of pericytes appears to be somewhat lower than in vascular smooth muscle cells but higher than in endothelia and other vessel-associated cells; and (c) pericytes, unlike endothelia and other nonmuscle cells, contain detectable levels of tropomyosin immunologically related to the smooth muscle isoform. These results and our previous findings concerning the presence of a cyclic GMP-dependent protein kinase (Joyce, N., P. DeCamilli, and J. Boyles, 1984, Microvasc. Res. 28:206-219) in pericytes demonstrate that these cells contain significant amounts of at least two proteins important for contraction regulation. Taken together, the evidence suggests that pericytes are contractile elements related to vascular smooth muscle cells, possibly involved, as are the latter, in the regulation of blood flow through the microvasculature.
This paper describes the localization of isomyosins in the pericytes of four rat microvascular beds: heart, diaphragm, pancreas, and the intestinal mucosa, by use of immunoperoxidase techniques and IgGs specific for either nonmuscle or smooth muscle isoforms. Based on the semiquantitative nature of the peroxidatic reaction, we concluded that the amount and distribution of these isoforms vary with the microvascular bed and also with vascular segments within the same bed. In the pericytes of small capillaries, nonmuscle isomyosin is the predominant form, whereas the smooth muscle isomyosin is present in very low concentration. A reversed relationship is found in the pericytes associated with larger capillaries and postcapillary venules. These results, taken together with previous findings on actin (Herman, I., and P. A. D'Amore, 1983, J. Cell Biol. 97:278a), tropomyosin (Joyce, N. C., M. F. Haire, and G. E. Palade, 1985, J. Cell Biol. 100:1379-1386), and cyclic GMP-dependent protein kinase (Joyce, N., P. DeCamilli, and J. Boyles, 1984, Microvasc. Res. 28:206-219), indicate that pericytes contain proteins essential for contraction in higher concentration than any other cells associated with the microvasculature, except smooth muscle cells. Pericytes appear to be, therefore, cells differentiated for a contractile function within the microvasculature.