Overexpression of Angiopoietin-1 Increases CD133+/c-kit+ Cells and Reduces Myocardial Apoptosis in db/db Mouse Infarcted Hearts
Vasculogenesis, the formation of blood vessels in embryonic or fetal tissue mediated by immature vascular cells (i.e., angioblasts), is poorly understood. Here we report a summary of our recent studies on the identification of a population of vascular progenitor cells (VPCs) in human fetal aorta. These undifferentiated mesenchymal cells co-express endothelial and myogenic markers (CD133+, CD34+, KDR+, desmin+) and are localized in outer layer of the aortic stroma of 11-12 weeks old human fetuses. Under stimulation with VEGF-A or PDGF-BB, VPCs give origin to a mixed population of mature endothelial and mural cells, respectively. When embedded in a three-dimensional collagen gel, VPCs organize into cohesive cellular cords that resembled mature vascular structures. The therapeutic efficacy of a small number of VPCs transplanted into ischemic limb muscle was demonstrated in immunodeficient mice. Investigation of the effect of VPCs on experimental heart ischemia and on diabetic ischemic ulcers in mice is in progress and seems to confirm their efficacy. On the whole, fetal aorta represents an important source for the investigation of phenotypic and functional features of human vascular progenitor cells.