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Am J Pathol. 2011 Jul;179(1):349-66. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2011.03.036. Epub 2011 May 19.

Effects of age and heart failure on human cardiac stem cell function.

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Center for Regenerative Medicine, Udine Medical School, Udine, Italy.


Currently, it is unknown whether defects in stem cell growth and differentiation contribute to myocardial aging and chronic heart failure (CHF), and whether a compartment of functional human cardiac stem cells (hCSCs) persists in the decompensated heart. To determine whether aging and CHF are critical determinants of the loss in growth reserve of the heart, the properties of hCSCs were evaluated in 18 control and 23 explanted hearts. Age and CHF showed a progressive decrease in functionally competent hCSCs. Chronological age was a major predictor of five biomarkers of hCSC senescence: telomeric shortening, attenuated telomerase activity, telomere dysfunction-induced foci, and p21(Cip1) and p16(INK4a) expression. CHF had similar consequences for hCSCs, suggesting that defects in the balance between cardiomyocyte mass and the pool of nonsenescent hCSCs may condition the evolution of the decompensated myopathy. A correlation was found previously between telomere length in circulating bone marrow cells and cardiovascular diseases, but that analysis was restricted to average telomere length in a cell population, neglecting the fact that telomere attrition does not occur uniformly in all cells. The present study provides the first demonstration that dysfunctional telomeres in hCSCs are biomarkers of aging and heart failure. The biomarkers of cellular senescence identified here can be used to define the birth date of hCSCs and to sort young cells with potential therapeutic efficacy.

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