Classification and Functional Characterization of Vasa Vasorum-Associated Perivascular Progenitor Cells in Human Aorta

Stem Cell Reports. 2017 Jul 11;9(1):292-303. doi: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2017.04.028. Epub 2017 May 25.


In the microcirculation, pericytes are believed to function as mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). We hypothesized that the vasa vasorum harbor progenitor cells within the adventitia of human aorta. Pericytes, endothelial progenitor cells, and other cell subpopulations were detected among freshly isolated adventitial cells using flow cytometry. Purified cultured pericytes were enriched for the MSC markers CD105 and CD73 and depleted of the endothelial markers von Willebrand factor and CD31. Cultured pericytes were capable of smooth muscle lineage progression including inducible expression of smooth muscle myosin heavy chain, calponin, and α-smooth muscle actin, and adopted a spindle shape. Pericytes formed spheroids when cultured on Matrigel substrates and peripherally localized with branching endothelial cells in vitro. Our results indicate that the vasa vasorum form a progenitor cell niche distinct from other previously described progenitor populations in human adventitia. These findings could have important implications for understanding the complex pathophysiology of human aortic disease.

Keywords: adventitia; aorta; endothelial progenitor cells; flow cytometry; pericyte; perivascular progenitor cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5'-Nucleotidase / analysis
  • Adult
  • Adventitia / cytology
  • Aged
  • Aorta / cytology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endoglin / analysis
  • Endothelial Progenitor Cells / cytology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pericytes / cytology*
  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 / analysis
  • Stem Cell Niche
  • Vasa Vasorum / cytology*
  • von Willebrand Factor / analysis


  • Endoglin
  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1
  • von Willebrand Factor
  • 5'-Nucleotidase