Background: Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) have been isolated from peripheral blood and can enhance angiogenesis after infusion into host animals. It is not known whether the proangiogenic effects are a result of such events as endothelial differentiation and subsequent proliferation of EPCs or secondary to secretion of angiogenic growth factors.
Methods and results: Human EPCs were isolated as previously described, and their phenotypes were confirmed by uptake of acetylated LDL and binding of ulex-lectin. EPC proliferation and surface marker expression were analyzed by flow cytometry, and conditioned medium was assayed for growth factors. The majority of EPCs expressed monocyte/macrophage markers such as CD14 (95.7+/-0.3%), Mac-1 (57.6+/-13.5%), and CD11c (90.8+/-4.9%). A much lower percentage of cells expressed the specific endothelial marker VE-cadherin (5.2+/-0.7%) or stem/progenitor-cell markers AC133 (0.16+/-0.05%) and c-kit (1.3+/-0.7%). Compared with circulating monocytes, cultured EPCs showed upregulation of monocyte activation and macrophage differentiation markers. EPCs did not demonstrate any significant proliferation but did secrete the angiogenic growth factors vascular endothelial growth factor, hepatocyte growth factor, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that acetylated LDL(+)ulex-lectin(+) cells, commonly referred to as EPCs, do not proliferate but release potent proangiogenic growth factors. The majority of acetylated LDL(+)ulex-lectin(+) cells are derived from monocyte/macrophages. The findings of low proliferation and endothelial differentiation suggest that their angiogenic effects are most likely mediated by growth factor secretion. These findings may allow for development of novel angiogenic therapies relying on secreted growth factors or on recruitment of endogenous monocytes/macrophages to sites of ischemia.