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BACKGROUND: Endothelial cell (EC) generation and turnover by self-proliferation contributes to vascular repair and regeneration. The ability to accurately measure the dynamics of EC generation would advance our understanding of cellular mechanisms of vascular homeostasis and diseases. However, it is currently challenging to evaluate the dynamics of EC generation in large vessels such as arteries because of their infrequent proliferation. METHODS: By using dual recombination systems based on Cre-loxP and Dre-rox, we developed a genetic system for temporally seamless recording of EC proliferation in vivo. We combined genetic recording of EC proliferation with single-cell RNA sequencing and gene knockout to uncover cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying EC generation in arteries during homeostasis and disease. RESULTS: Genetic proliferation tracing reveals that ≈3% of aortic ECs undergo proliferation per month in adult mice during homeostasis. The orientation of aortic EC division is generally parallel to blood flow in the aorta, which is regulated by the mechanosensing protein Piezo1. Single-cell RNA sequencing analysis reveals 4 heterogeneous aortic EC subpopulations with distinct proliferative activity. EC cluster 1 exhibits transit-amplifying cell features with preferential proliferative capacity and enriched expression of stem cell markers such as Sca1 and Sox18. EC proliferation increases in hypertension but decreases in type 2 diabetes, coinciding with changes in the extent of EC cluster 1 proliferation. Combined gene knockout and proliferation tracing reveals that Hippo/vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2 signaling pathways regulate EC proliferation in large vessels. CONCLUSIONS: Genetic proliferation tracing quantitatively delineates the dynamics of EC generation and turnover, as well as EC division orientation, in large vessels during homeostasis and disease. An EC subpopulation in the aorta exhibits more robust cell proliferation during homeostasis and type 2 diabetes, identifying it as a potential therapeutic target for vascular repair and regeneration.

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arteries, diabetes mellitus, endothelial cells, hypertension