Background: Cardiovascular risk factors contribute to atherogenesis by inducing endothelial-cell injury and dysfunction. We hypothesized that endothelial progenitor cells derived from bone marrow have a role in ongoing endothelial repair and that impaired mobilization or depletion of these cells contributes to endothelial dysfunction and cardiovascular disease progression.
Methods: We measured the number of colony-forming units of endothelial progenitor cells in peripheral-blood samples from 45 men (mean [+/-SE] age, 50+/-2 years). The subjects had various degrees of cardiovascular risk but no history of cardiovascular disease. Endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent function was assessed by high-resolution ultrasonography of the brachial artery.
Results: We observed a strong correlation between the number of circulating endothelial progenitor cells and the subjects' combined Framingham risk factor score (r=-0.47, P=0.001). Measurement of flow-mediated brachial-artery reactivity also revealed a significant relation between endothelial function and the number of progenitor cells (r=0.59, P<0.001). Indeed, the levels of circulating endothelial progenitor cells were a better predictor of vascular reactivity than was the presence or absence of conventional risk factors. In addition, endothelial progenitor cells from subjects at high risk for cardiovascular events had higher rates of in vitro senescence than cells from subjects at low risk.
Conclusions: In healthy men, levels of endothelial progenitor cells may be a surrogate biologic marker for vascular function and cumulative cardiovascular risk. These findings suggest that endothelial injury in the absence of sufficient circulating progenitor cells may affect the progression of cardiovascular disease.
Copyright 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society