Background: In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), decreased progenitor cells and impairment of systemic vascular function have been suggested to confer higher cardiovascular risk. The origin of these changes and their relationship with alterations in the pulmonary circulation are unknown.
Objectives: To investigate whether changes in the number of circulating hematopoietic progenitor cells are associated with pulmonary hypertension or changes in endothelial function.
Methods: 62 COPD patients and 35 controls (18 non-smokers and 17 smokers) without cardiovascular risk factors other than cigarette smoking were studied. The number of circulating progenitors was measured as CD45(+)CD34(+)CD133(+) labeled cells by flow cytometry. Endothelial function was assessed by flow-mediated dilation. Markers of inflammation and angiogenesis were also measured in all subjects.
Results: Compared with controls, the number of circulating progenitor cells was reduced in COPD patients. Progenitor cells did not differ between control smokers and non-smokers. COPD patients with pulmonary hypertension showed greater number of progenitor cells than those without pulmonary hypertension. Systemic endothelial function was worse in both control smokers and COPD patients. Interleukin-6, fibrinogen, high sensitivity C-reactive protein, vascular endothelial growth factor and tumor necrosis factor were increased in COPD. In COPD patients, the number of circulating progenitor cells was inversely related to the flow-mediated dilation of systemic arteries.
Conclusions: Pulmonary and systemic vascular impairment in COPD is associated with cigarette smoking but not with the reduced number of circulating hematopoietic progenitors. The latter appears to be a consequence of the disease itself not related to smoking habit.