Pulmonary hypertension is characterized by cellular and structural changes in the walls of pulmonary arteries. Intimal thickening and fibrosis, medial hypertrophy and fibroproliferative changes in the adventitia are commonly observed, as is the extension of smooth muscle into the previously non-muscularized vessels. A majority of these changes are associated with the enhanced presence of α-SM-actin+ cells and inflammatory cells. Atypical abundances of functionally distinct endothelial cells, particularly in the intima (plexiform lesions), and also in the perivascular regions, are also described. At present, neither the origin(s) of these cells nor the molecular mechanisms responsible for their accumulation, in any of the three compartments of the vessel wall, have been fully elucidated. The possibility that they arise from either resident vascular progenitors or bone marrow-derived progenitor cells is now well established. Resident vascular progenitor cells have been demonstrated to exist within the vessel wall, and in response to certain stimuli, to expand and express myofibroblastic, endothelial or even hematopoietic markers. Bone marrow-derived or circulating progenitor cells have also been shown to be recruited to sites of vascular injury and to assume both endothelial and SM-like phenotypes. Here, we review the data supporting the contributory role of vascular progenitors (including endothelial progenitor cells, smooth muscle progenitor cells, pericytes, and fibrocytes) in vascular remodeling. A more complete understanding of the processes by which progenitor cells modulate pulmonary vascular remodeling will undoubtedly herald a renaissance of therapies extending beyond the control of vascular tonicity and reduction of pulmonary artery pressure.
Keywords: Fibrocyte; angiogenesis; inflammation; pericyte.