Determining the role of endothelial progenitor cells in post-natal neovascularization
Robinson, Scott Thomas
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Endothelial Progenitor Cells (EPCs) were first identified from human blood samples as a population of circulating mononuclear cells capable of displaying a mature endothelial cell phenotype in culture. Subsequent studies have established that EPCs arise from the bone marrow (BM) and incorporate into the endothelium at sites of blood vessel growth, suggesting a potential role for these cells in neovascularization. Furthermore, a decline in EPC count has been correlated to multiple vascular pathologies, indicating that EPC number could serve as a biomarker of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, due to the variability in techniques used for EPC isolation and identification, considerable heterogeneity exists within the population of cells commonly defined as EPCs. In order for the clinical potential of EPCs to be fully realized, thorough characterization of the BM-derived cell populations involved in neovascularization is required. The objective of our study was to determine the functional significance of circulating EPCs in postnatal vascular growth and repair. Two separate strategies were employed to achieve this objective. In the first, we attempted to generate a novel mouse model where the pool of bone marrow-derived endothelial precursors was drastically reduced or eliminated. Our overall approach was to deliver a "suicide" gene, under control of an endothelial cell-specific promoter, to bone marrow cells for use in bone marrow transplantation (BMT) experiments. Mice receiving BMTs would therefore lack the ability to deliver viable BM-derived EPCs to sites of neovascularization. Our central hypothesis for this study was that a reduction in EPC viability would hinder endogenous vascular repair mechanisms, thereby exacerbating cardiovascular disease. In the second strategy, we attempted to identify novel progenitor cell populations based on the transcriptional regulation of pro-angiogenic genes. Our overall approach was to transduce BM with a retrovirus containing a fluorescent reporter gene under control of pro-angiogenic promoters for use in transplantation experiments. Our central hypothesis for this study was that unique populations of BM-derived cells could be identified by expression of the fluorescent reporter gene directed by the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF), endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase (eNOS) and Vascular Endothelial (VE) Cadherin promoters. The BMT strategy utilized to address our first hypothesis was unsuccessful due to the use of a truncated form of the pro-apoptotic Bax as our suicide gene target. A plasmid encoding GFP fused to the truncated Bax fragment (ΔN-Bax, consisting of amino acids 112-192 of the full length protein) was used in transfection experiments to assess ΔN-Bax function. The GFP:ΔN-Bax fusion protein formed distinct extranuclear aggregates (presumably due to mitochondrial translocation) but did not induce apoptosis in transfected cells. The ΔN-Bax fragment also did not induce cell death when targeted to endothelial cells with retoviral-mediated gene delivery or in a transgenic mouse setting. To address our second hypothesis, we generated retroviral vectors containing the fluorescent tdTomato reporter under control of the VEGF, eNOS and VE Cadherin promoters. Significant fluorescence was detected in cultured endothelial cells and ex vivo-expanded BM cells. Following transplantation of transduced BM cells into lethally irradiated recipient mice, we were able to identify circulating populations of tdTomato-positive cells using flow cytometry. With these results we have identified novel subpopulations of circulating BM-derived cells which may play a significant role in post-natal neovascularization in mice. Therefore, results acquired from these studies could lead to improved cell therapy techniques for treatment of vascular disease.