Endothelial progenitor cells in the natural history of atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis. 2007 Sep;194(1):46-54. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2007.03.046. Epub 2007 May 9.


Atherosclerotic diseases are responsible for a significant part of morbidity and mortality in western countries. According to the classical views, atherosclerotic lesions develop as the result of an inflammatory process initiated by endothelial damage. The discovery that bone marrow-derived cells participate in endothelial repair and new vessel growth has changed the pathogenetic models of cardiovascular disease. These cells, termed endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs), represent the endogenous endothelial regenerative capacity and the ability to form new collateral vessels. In this review we describe how quantitative and qualitative alterations of EPCs have a significant role in virtually all stages of the atherosclerotic process and in the clinical manifestations of the diseases: starting from the impact of risk factors on EPCs, through the mechanisms that link EPC reduction/dysfunction to plaque formation, and finally to the clinical syndromes. An attempt to diverge our attention from the vessel wall to the bloodstream reveals a central role of EPCs in atherogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology*
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Stem Cells / pathology*