Hematopoietic cell clusters in the aorta of vertebrate embryos play a pivotal role in the formation of the adult blood system. Despite their importance, hematopoietic clusters have not been systematically quantitated or mapped because of technical limitations posed by the opaqueness of whole mouse embryos. Here, we combine an approach to make whole mouse embryos transparent, with multicolor marking, to allow observation of hematopoietic clusters using high-resolution 3-dimensional confocal microscopy. Our method provides the first complete map and temporal quantitation of all hematopoietic clusters in the mouse embryonic vasculature. We show that clusters peak in number at embryonic day 10.5, localize to specific vascular subregions and are heterogeneous, indicating a basal endothelial to non-basal (outer cluster) hematopoietic cell transition. Clusters enriched with the c-Kit+CD31+SSEA1− cell population contain functional hematopoietic progenitors and stem cells. Thus, three-dimensional cartography of transparent mouse embryos provides novel insight into the vascular subregions instrumental in hematopoietic progenitor/stem cell development, and represents an important technological advancement for comprehensive in situ hematopoietic cluster analysis.
- Accepted August 25, 2010.