Circulating progenitor cells in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia

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Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disease with very high levels of circulating low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels that leads to accelerated atherosclerosis. Lipoprotein apheresis is an effective treatment option for patients with FH and results in reduced cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Circulating progenitor cells (CPCs) are markers of overall vascular health and diminished levels have been associated with decreased reparative potential and worse outcomes. We assessed the short-term change in CPC levels following a single lipoprotein apheresis session in FH patients who are already on stable lipoprotein apheresis therapy. We hypothesized that in addition to a reduction in atherogenic lipids, the cardiovascular benefit from lipoprotein apheresis therapy is mediated by enhanced vascular reparative capacity through mobilization of CPCs.


Eight FH patients (1 homozygous and 7 heterozygous) on stable lipoprotein apheresis therapy for at least three months had CPCs measured at baseline (prior to apheresis) and two hours after apheresis. Results were compared with data from age-matched hyperlipidemic (HLP) patients on statin therapy and healthy volunteers.


FH patients had higher baseline circulating levels of CD34+/CD133+ and CD34+/CD133+/CXCR4+ cells compared to HLP and healthy subjects. There was no significant change in CPCs after apheresis in FH patients.


FH patients had higher CPC counts at baseline compared to age-matched HLP and healthy controls, suggesting activation of reparative mechanism in this high risk population. Larger studies are needed to better characterize differences in CPC counts between FH subjects and HLP patients over time.

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