The circulating form of endothelial progenitors cells (EPCs) are derived from bone marrow (BM)-derived hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Enhanced mobilization of EPCs was shown to be linked to cardiac diseases. This study investigated whether reduced EPC levels in advanced coronary heart disease (CHD) are secondary to a functional exhaustion of HSCs in the BM or to reduced mobilization. Number and functional properties of EPCs were assessed in 15 healthy controls, and 40 patients with CHD. The colony-forming unit (CFU) capacity of BM-derived mononuclear cells and the CD34+ HSC number were examined in four healthy volunteers, and 15 CHD patients. EPC number was reduced in CHD patients (P < 0.01 vs. controls). Moreover, the migratory capacity was significantly impaired in EPCs of CHD patients (P < 0.05 vs. controls). On multivariate analysis, CHD was an independent predictor of functional EPC impairment. CFUs were reduced in CHD patients (59.6 +/- 21.2 vs. 75.4 +/- 25.8 in controls, P < 0.05). CHD was also predictor of impaired CFU capacity. In this small clinical study, CHD is associated with selective impairment of HSC function in the BM and in the peripheral blood, which may contribute to impairment of cardiac function.