An understanding of cardiac progenitor cell biology would facilitate their therapeutic potential for cardiomyocyte restoration and functional heart repair. Our previous studies identified cardiac mesoangioblasts as precommitted progenitor cells from the postnatal heart, which can be expanded in vitro and efficiently differentiated in vitro and in vivo to contribute new myocardium after injury.Based on their proliferation potential in culture, we show here that two populations of mesoangioblasts can be isolated from explant cultures of mouse and human heart.Although both populations express similar surface markers, together with a panel of instructive cardiac transcription factors, they differ significantly in their cellular content of mitochondria. Slow dividing (SD) cells, containing many mitochondria, can be efficiently differentiated with 5-azacytidine (5-aza) to generate cardiomyocytes expressing mature structural markers. In contrast, fast dividing (FD) mesoangioblasts, which contain decreased quantities of mitochondria, do not respond to 5-aza treatment.Notably, increasing mitochondrial numbers using pharmacological nitric oxide (NO) donors reverses the differentiation block in FD mesoangioblasts and leads to a progressive maturation to cardiomyocytes; conversely decreasing mitochondrial content, using respiratory chain inhibitors and chloramphenicol, perturbs cardiomyocyte differentiation in SD populations. Furthermore, isolated cardiac mesoangioblasts from aged mouse and human hearts are found to be almost exclusively mitochondria low FD populations, which are permissive for cardiomyocyte differentiation only after NO treatment. Taken together,this study illustrates a key role for mitochondria in cardiac mesoangioblast differentiation and raises the interesting possibility that treatments, which increase cellular mitochondrial content, may have utility for cardiac stem cell therapy.
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