Pericytes and cardiac stem cells: Common features and peculiarities

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Graphical abstractClinical data and basic research indicate that the structural and functional alterations that characterize the evolution of cardiac disease towards heart failure may be, at least in part, reversed. This paradigm shift is due to the accumulation of evidence indicating that, in peculiar settings, cardiomyocytes may be replenished. Moving from the consideration that cardiomyocytes are rapidly withdrawn from the cell cycle after birth, independent laboratories have tested the hypothesis that cardiac resident stem/progenitor cells resided in mammalian hearts and were important for myocardial repair. After almost two decades of intensive investigation, several (but partially overlapping) cardiac resident stem/progenitor cell populations have been identified. These primitive cells are characterized by mesenchymal features, unique properties that distinguish them from mesodermal progenitors residing in other tissues, and heterogeneous embryological origins (that include the neural crest and the epicardium). A further layer of complexity is related to the nature, in vivo localization and properties of mesodermal progenitors residing in adult tissues. Intriguingly, these latter, whose possible perivascular pericyte/mural cell origin has been shown, have been identified in human hearts too. However, their exact anatomical localization, pathophysiological role, and their relationship with cardiac stem/progenitor cells are emerging only recently. Therefore, aim of this review is to discuss the different origin, the distinct nature, and the complementary effect of cardiac stem cells and pericytes supporting regenerative strategies based on the combined use of both myogenic and angiogenic factors.

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