miR-21 Promotes Fibrogenic Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition of Epicardial Mesothelial Cells Involving Programmed Cell Death 4 and Sprouty-1
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition is implicated in the remodelling of tissues during development and in the adult life. In the heart, it gives origin to progenitors of fibroblasts, coronary endothelium, smooth muscle cells, and cardiomyocytes. Moreover, epicardially-derived cells determine myocardial wall thickness and Purkinje fibre network. Recently, the presence of numerous cardiac stem cells in the subepicardium of the adult human heart has been described and the hypothesis that epicardially-derived cells can contribute to the population of cardiac stem cells in the adult heart has been advanced. In an effort to test this hypothesis and establish a possible link between epicardium, epicardially-derived cells and cardiac stem cells in the adult human heart we have examined epicardial mesothelial cells in the normal and pathological adult human heart with ischemic cardiomyopathy in vivo and we have induced and documented their epithelial-mesenchymal transition in vitro. Noticeably, epicardial cells were missing from the surface of pathological hearts and the cells with the expression of epithelial and mesenchymal markers populated thick subepicardial space. When the fragments of epicardium from the normal hearts were cultured on the specific substrate formed by extracellular matrix derived from cardiac fibroblasts, we obtained the outgrowth of the epithelial sheet with the mRNA and protein expression characteristic of epicardium. TGFβ induced cellular and molecular changes typical of epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Moreover, the epicardially-derived cells expressed CD117 antigen. Thus, this study provides evidence that cardiac stem cells can originate from epithelial-mesenchymal transition of the epicardial cells in the adult human heart.