Adult venous endothelium is a niche for highly proliferative and vasculogenic endothelial colony-forming cells

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Objective:Postnatal resident endothelium of blood vessels has been proposed to represent terminally differentiated tissue that does not replicate. We previously isolated endothelial colony-forming cells (ECFCs) from human umbilical cord blood (CB) and term placenta by using colony-forming assays and immunocytochemistry. We showed that ECFCs are highly proliferative and form functioning vessels in vivo, the defining characteristics of a true endothelial progenitor cell. This exploratory investigation was conducted to determine whether the endothelium of healthy adult blood vessels contained resident ECFCs.Methods:The endothelium of great saphenous vein (GSV) obtained from vein stripping procedures was collected with mechanical scraping, and ECFCs were isolated according to established protocols.Results:GSV ECFCs incorporated acetylated low-density lipoprotein, formed tubules in Matrigel (BD Biosciences, San Jose, Calif) at 24 hours, and expressed endothelial antigens cluster of differentiation (CD) 144, CD31, CD105, and kinase insert domain receptor but not hematopoietic antigen CD45. Using cumulative population doublings and single-cell assays, we demonstrated that GSV ECFCs exhibited comparable proliferative capacities compared with CB ECFCs, including similar numbers of highly proliferative cells. When injected in collagen/fibronectin gels implanted in nonobese diabetic/severe combined immune deficiency mice, GSV ECFCs formed blood vessels with circulating murine red blood cells, demonstrating their vasculogenic potential.Conclusions:The ECFCs of the GSV contain a hierarchy of progenitor cells with a comparable number of highly proliferative clones as ECFCs of CB. The results of this investigation demonstrate that the adult endothelium contains resident progenitor cells that may have a critical role in vascular homeostasis and repair and could potentially be used as a source of autologous cells for cell therapies focusing on vasculogenesis.Clinical Relevance:Despite their promise for treating vascular disease, cell therapies involving endothelial colony-forming cells (ECFCs) have not been feasible, partly because of a lack of autologous sources. We show here that adult great saphenous vein is a niche for ECFCs that exhibit a comparable phenotype to ECFCs from CB. These data provide a platform to begin investigations into the feasibility of using these cells in autologous cell-based therapies for vascular diseases.

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