Haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells emerge from specialized haemogenic endothelial cells in select vascular beds during embryonic development. Specification and commitment to the blood lineage, however, occur before endothelial cells are endowed with haemogenic competence, at the time of mesoderm patterning and production of endothelial cell progenitors (angioblasts). Whilst early blood cell fate specification has long been recognized, very little is known about the mechanisms that induce endothelial cell diversification and progressive acquisition of a blood identity by a subset of these cells. Here, we review the endothelial origin of the haematopoietic system and the complex developmental journey of blood-fated angioblasts. We discuss how recent technological advances will be instrumental to examine the diversity of the embryonic anatomical niches, signaling pathways and downstream epigenetic and transcriptional processes controlling endothelial cell heterogeneity and blood cell fate specification. Ultimately, this will give essential insights into the ontogeny of the cells giving rise to haematopoietic stem cells, that may aid in the development of novel strategies for their in vitro production for clinical purposes.
Semin Cell Dev Biol