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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Sep 11;98(19):10733-8. Epub 2001 Sep 4.

Cardiomyocytes induce endothelial cells to trans-differentiate into cardiac muscle: implications for myocardium regeneration.

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  • 1Second Medical School, University La Sapienza and Istituti di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS), Neuromed, 00100 Rome, Italy.


The concept of tissue-restricted differentiation of postnatal stem cells has been challenged by recent evidence showing pluripotency for hematopoietic, mesenchymal, and neural stem cells. Furthermore, rare but well documented examples exist of already differentiated cells in developing mammals that change fate and trans-differentiate into another cell type. Here, we report that endothelial cells, either freshly isolated from embryonic vessels or established as homogeneous cells in culture, differentiate into beating cardiomyocytes and express cardiac markers when cocultured with neonatal rat cardiomyocytes or when injected into postischemic adult mouse heart. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells also differentiate into cardiomyocytes under similar experimental conditions and transiently coexpress von Willebrand factor and sarcomeric myosin. In contrast, neural stem cells, which efficiently differentiate into skeletal muscle, differentiate into cardiomyocytes at a low rate. Fibroblast growth factor 2 and bone morphogenetic protein 4, which activate cardiac differentiation in embryonic cells, do not activate cardiogenesis in endothelial cells or stimulate trans-differentiation in coculture, suggesting that different signaling molecules are responsible for cardiac induction during embryogenesis and in successive periods of development. The fact that endothelial cells can generate cardiomyocytes sheds additional light on the plasticity of endothelial cells during development and opens perspectives for cell autologous replacement therapies.

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