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Curr Pharm Des. 2007;13(16):1699-713.

Circulating endothelial progenitor cells characterization, function and relationship with cardiovascular risk factors.

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Cardiac and Thoracic Department, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.


Since the first description of putative progenitor endothelial cells mobilized from bone marrow by stimuli like ischemia and cytokines, several studies in animals have confirmed their role in neovascularization of ischemic organs. In ischemic myocardium endothelial progenitor cells can prevent cardiomyocyte apoptosis, reduce remodeling and improve cardiac function. These observations led to the hypothesis of endothelial progenitor cells as possible cell-based therapy in patients by autologous transplantation in ischemic tissue or by improving peripheral circulating numbers with mobilization by cytokines. Early trials, including a randomized one, suggest that the intracoronary autologous bone marrow cell transfer after myocardial infarction exerts at least short term functional benefits. Since endothelial damage and dysfunction play a critical role in atherosclerosis disease, research interest was addressed to evaluate the role of progenitor endothelial cells in vascular endothelial layer maintenance. Opposing to local resident endothelial cells poor proliferation rate, progenitor endothelial cells regenerative capacity, homing and integration into blood vessels have been interpreted as a protective role of these cells in vascular homeostasis. Indeed, the number and function of endothelial progenitor cells relate with the progression of atherosclerosis; the accumulation of cardiovascular risk factors or an increased overall risk are inversely associated with endothelial progenitor cells number and function. Finally, recent studies have shown a role of progenitor cells numbers to predict cardiovascular events, raising endothelial progenitor cells to the podium of novel prognostic biomarker.

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