We have previously reported that human umbilical cord blood mononuclear cells (HUCBC), which contain hematopoietic, mesenchymal, and endothelial stem cells, can significantly reduce acute myocardial infarction size. To determine the mechanism whereby HUCBC increase myocyte and vascular endothelial cell survival, we treated cardiac myocytes and coronary artery endothelial cells in separate experiments with HUCBC plus culture media or culture media alone and subjected the cells to 24 h of hypoxia or normoxia. We then determined in myocytes and endothelial cells activation of the cell survival protein Akt by Western blots. We also determined in these cells apoptosis by annexin V staining and necrosis by propidium iodide staining. Thereafter, we inhibited with API, a specific and sensitive Akt inhibitor, Akt activation in myocytes and endothelial cells cultured with HUCBC during hypoxia and determined cell apoptosis and necrosis. In cells cultured without HUCBC, hypoxia only slightly activated Akt. Moreover, hypoxia increased myocyte apoptosis by ≥ 226% and necrosis by 58% in comparison with myocytes in normoxia. Hypoxic treatment of endothelial cells without HUCBC increased apoptosis by 94% and necrosis by 59%. In contrast, hypoxia did not significantly affect HUCBC. Moreover, in myocyte + HUCBC cultures in hypoxia, HUCBC induced a ≥ 135% increase in myocyte phospho-Akt. Akt activation decreased myocyte apoptosis by 76% and necrosis by 35%. In endothelial cells, HUCBC increased phospho-Akt by 116%. HUCBC also decreased endothelial cell apoptosis by 58% and necrosis by 42%. Inhibition of Akt with API in myocytes and endothelial cells cultured with HUCBC during hypoxia nearly totally prevented the HUCBC-induced decrease in apoptosis and necrosis. We conclude that HUCBC can significantly decrease hypoxia-induced myocyte and endothelial cell apoptosis and necrosis by activating Akt in these cells and in this manner HUCBC can limit myocardial ischemia and injury.
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