Direct injection of endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) into the circulation has shown therapeutic benefit in both experimental models and clinical studies of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Using the monocrotaline (MCT)-induced rat model of PAH, we investigated the role of innate immunity in the therapeutic activity of two types of putative EPCs derived from human peripheral blood mononuclear cells: an early population of endothelial-like, culture-modified monocytes (E-CMMs) and late-outgrowth EPCs (L-EPCs), which exhibit a strong endothelial phenotype. In the athymic nude rat, E-CMMs prevented MCT-induced increases in right ventricular systolic pressure (P < 0.001) and right ventricular hypertrophy (P < 0.01) when administered 3 days after MCT challenge, whereas L-EPCs were ineffective. However, in both cases, there was a lack of cell persistence within the lungs at 24 hours after injection, likely due to residual natural killer (NK) cell activity in the model. Although ablation of NK and NK-T cells with anti-asialo-GM-1 antiserum enhanced the retention of both E-CMMs and L-EPCs, still no benefit was seen with L-EPCs, and the efficacy of E-CMMs was lost. In vitro characterization revealed that E-CMMs resemble a regulatory subtype of dendritic cells, producing IL-10, but not IL-12, in response to inflammatory stimuli. Coculture studies demonstrated the capacity of E-EPCs to stimulate autologous human and nude rat NK cells in vitro. These data support a novel mode of action for human E-CMMs in the prevention of PAH, whereby they act through an immune-dependent mechanism, potentially involving the stimulation of NK cells.