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Circ Res. 2013 Jan 18;112(2):335-46. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.111.300418. Epub 2012 Dec 11.

MicroRNA-15a and microRNA-16 impair human circulating proangiogenic cell functions and are increased in the proangiogenic cells and serum of patients with critical limb ischemia.

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  • 1MultiMedica, Milan, Italy.



Circulating proangiogenic cells (PACs) support postischemic neovascularization. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus impair PAC regenerative capacities via molecular mechanisms that are not fully known. We hypothesize a role for microRNAs (miRs). Circulating miRs are currently investigated as potential diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers.


The objectives were the following: (1) to profile miR expression in PACs from critical limb ischemia (CLI) patients; (2) to demonstrate that miR-15a and miR-16 regulate PAC functions; and (3) to characterize circulating miR-15a and miR-16 and to investigate their potential biomarker value.


Twenty-eight miRs potentially able to modulate angiogenesis were measured in PACs from CLI patients with and without diabetes mellitus and controls. miR-15a and miR-16 were further analyzed. CLI-PACs expressed higher level of mature miR-15a and miR-16 and of the primary transcript pri-miR-15a/16-1. miR-15a/16 overexpression impaired healthy PAC survival and migration. Conversely, miR-15a/16 inhibition improved CLI-PAC-defective migration. Vascular endothelial growth factor-A and AKT-3 were validated as direct targets of the 2 miRs, and their protein levels were reduced in miR-15a/16-overexpressing healthy PACs and in CLI-PACs. Transplantation of healthy PACs ex vivo-engineered with anti-miR-15a/16 improved postischemic blood flow recovery and muscular arteriole density in immunodeficient mice. miR-15a and miR-16 were present in human blood, including conjugated to argonaute-2 and in exosomes. Both miRs were increased in the serum of CLI patients and positively correlated with amputation after restenosis at 12 months postrevascularization of CLI type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. Serum miR-15a additionally correlated with restenosis at follow-up.


Ex vivo miR-15a/16 inhibition enhances PAC therapeutic potential, and circulating miR-15a and miR-16 deserves further investigation as a prognostic biomarker in CLI patients undergoing revascularization.

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