After decades of speculation, proof of embryonic hemangioblasts finally emerged a few years ago. Surprisingly, at about the same time, evidence for adult hemangioblasts began to appear, and recent single-cell bone marrow transplants have confirmed their existence. Embryonic and adult hemangioblasts appear to share antigenic determinants, including CD34, ACC133, and VEGFR2, although their phenotype may be plastic. They also respond to similar factors, prominent among them vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). In the adult, hemangioblasts reside principally in the bone marrow, although they may subsequently leave that niche to reside in nonhematopoietic tissues. A number of studies indicate that these cells or their progeny may be a significant source of endothelial cells in adult pathologic and nonpathologic vascularization, and may participate in vascular repair. In addition to hemangioblasts, a more differentiated source of endothelial cell progenitors may be present in the blood, namely, monocytes or monocytic-like cells. The relative importance of the two cell types in vivo is not clear, though endothelial cells derived from the two sources may not be identical, and hemangioblasts seem to provide a stimulus for differentiation of the monocytes. Treatment with exogenous bone marrow-derived cells can promote neovascularization, accelerate restoration of blood flow to ischemic tissues, and improve cardiac function after infarct. Hence, there is great hope that either alone, in combination with angiogenic factors, or as gene therapy vectors, we can harness these cells to treat ischemic and vascular diseases in the relatively near future.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.