Background: Cell-based therapies can potentially promote neurological repair for CNS diseases including stroke. Pre-clinical data showed improved infarct volume and neurological scores following injection of Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs). However relatively few EPCs were found in infarct areas, and mechanisms by which injected EPCs enhance neovascularization are largely unknown. In this study, we hypothesized that circulating EPCs would positively impact intracellular signaling cascades in rat brain endothelial cells (RBECs) even by short-duration contact due to activation of pro-survival ERK1/2 cascades.
Methods: Primary RBECs and EPCs were isolated from rat brain and spleen, respectively. These cells were cultured separately, and 10 days later, cultured EPCs were transferred to plates of cultured RBECs. After 1 or 10 min incubation with cell-culture plate shaking, EPCs were washed from the plates and RBECs were subjected to western blot analysis to assess ERK1/2 phosphorylation. As a negative control for EPCs, we prepared neutrophils from different rats.
Results: We confirmed that our RBECs and EPCs were viable in vitro by LDH assay and these cells were positive for their cell-type markers assessed by immunostaining. Ten min incubation of EPCs phosphorylated ERK1/2 in RBECs in an EPC-number-dependent manner, whereas identical conditions of neurtrophil incubation did not. Importantly, only 1 min incubation with EPCs significantly upregulated ERK cascades in RBECs. Remaining EPCs on RBEC surfaces may not contribute to ERK1/2 phosphorylation because very few EPCs were observed after washout. In addition, experiments by the same procedure without RBECs did not show ERK phosphorylation.
Conclusion: We demonstrated increased activation of pro-survival ERK1/2 signaling in RBECs following short-duration incubation of EPCs. Results suggest that circulating EPCs may not need to be integrated into existing blood vessels to promote neovascularization. Rather, short-duration interactions between EPCs and RBECs may provide a “Touch-and-Go” stimulus that supports brain endothelial cells to make favorable environments for neovascularization.