CD117-positive cells of the heart: progenitor cells or mast cells?

J Histochem Cytochem. 2010 Apr;58(4):309-16. doi: 10.1369/jhc.2009.955146. Epub 2009 Dec 21.


Human cardiac stem/progenitor cells and their potential for repair of heart injury are a current hot topic of research. CD117 has been used frequently as a marker for identification of stem/progenitor cells in the heart. However, cardiac mast cells, which are also CD117(+), have not been excluded by credible means when selecting putative cardiac progenitors by using CD117 as a marker. We evaluated the relationship between CD117(+) cells and mast cells in the left ventricle of human hearts (n=5 patients, ages 1 week-75 years) with the well-established mast cell markers tryptase, toluidine blue, and thionine. A large number (85-100%) of CD117(+) cells in the human heart were specifically identified as mast cells. In addition, mast cells showed weak or moderate CD45 immunostaining signals. These results indicate that the majority of CD117(+) cells in the heart are mast cells and that these cells are distinctly positive for CD45, although staining was weak or moderate. These results strongly suggest that the newly reported CD117(+)/CD45(dim/moderate) putative cardiac progenitor cells are mast cells. The significance of this observation in stem cell research of the heart is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mast Cells / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardium / cytology*
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / metabolism*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Tryptases / metabolism


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens
  • PTPRC protein, human
  • Tryptases