Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) play a role in the repair of ischemic or injured tissue. Because endothelial injury can be associated with apoptosis, we have investigated whether apoptotic bodies from mature endothelial cells (ECs) may affect growth and differentiation of EPCs in vitro. A 24-hour incubation of isolated human EPCs with apoptotic bodies-rich medium (ABRM) from ECs led to a significant increase in the number of spindle-shaped attached cells. EPCs were characterized by DiI-Ac-LDL/lectin staining and measurement of CD34 and kinase insert domain receptor (KDR) expression. The treatment with ABRM resulted in a 2-fold increase of DiI-Ac-LDL/lectin-positive cells and up-regulation of CD34 (22% +/- 2% versus 13% +/- 3%, P < .05 and KDR (49% +/- 12% versus 19% +/- 7%, P < .05). Fluorescence and confocal laser microscopy demonstrated the uptake of apoptotic bodies by the EPCs. Apoptotic bodies-depleted medium had no effect, whereas the incubation with suspension of apoptotic bodies induced effects similar to those of ABRM. Our results suggest that apoptotic bodies from ECs are taken up by EPCs, increasing their number and differentiation state. Such a mechanism may facilitate the repair of injured endothelium and may represent a new signaling pathway between progenitor and damaged somatic cells.