Single-cell transcriptomic profiling and characterization of endothelial progenitor cells: new approach for finding novel markers

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2021 Feb 24;12(1):145. doi: 10.1186/s13287-021-02185-0.


Background: Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) are promising candidates for the cellular therapy of peripheral arterial and cardiovascular diseases. However, hitherto there is no specific marker(s) defining precisely EPCs. Herein, we are proposing a new in silico approach for finding novel EPC markers.

Methods: We assembled five groups of chosen EPC-related genes/factors using PubMed literature and Gene Ontology databases. This shortened database of EPC factors was fed into publically published transcriptome matrix to compare their expression between endothelial colony-forming cells (ECFCs), HUVECs, and two adult endothelial cell types (ECs) from the skin and adipose tissue. Further, the database was used for functional enrichment on Mouse Phenotype database and protein-protein interaction network analyses. Moreover, we built a digital matrix of healthy donors' PBMCs (33 thousand single-cell transcriptomes) and analyzed the expression of these EPC factors.

Results: Transcriptome analyses showed that BMP2, 4, and ephrinB2 were exclusively highly expressed in EPCs; the expression of neuropilin-1 and VEGF-C were significantly higher in EPCs and HUVECs compared with other ECs; Notch 1 was highly expressed in EPCs and skin-ECs; MIR21 was highly expressed in skin-ECs; PECAM-1 was significantly higher in EPCs and adipose ECs. Moreover, functional enrichment of EPC-related genes on Mouse Phenotype and STRING protein database has revealed significant relations between chosen EPC factors and endothelial and vascular functions, development, and morphogenesis, where ephrinB2, BMP2, and BMP4 were highly expressed in EPCs and were connected to abnormal vascular functions. Single-cell RNA-sequencing analyses have revealed that among the EPC-regulated markers in transcriptome analyses, (i) ICAM1 and Endoglin were weekly expressed in the monocyte compartment of the peripheral blood; (ii) CD163 and CD36 were highly expressed in the CD14+ monocyte compartment whereas CSF1R was highly expressed in the CD16+ monocyte compartment, (iii) L-selectin and IL6R were globally expressed in the lymphoid/myeloid compartments, and (iv) interestingly, PLAUR/UPAR and NOTCH2 were highly expressed in both CD14+ and CD16+ monocytic compartments.

Conclusions: The current study has identified novel EPC markers that could be used for better characterization of EPC subpopulation in adult peripheral blood and subsequent usage of EPCs for various cell therapy and regenerative medicine applications.

Keywords: Endothelial progenitor cells; Multi-parametric flow cytometric analyses; Protein-protein interaction network analyses; Single-cell RNA-sequencing analyses; Transcriptome analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endothelial Progenitor Cells*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Mice
  • Stem Cells
  • Transcriptome