RATIONALE: Neovascularization stimulated by local or recruited stem cells after ischemia is a key process that salvages damaged tissue and shows similarities with embryonic vascularization. Apelin receptor (Aplnr) and its endogenous ligand apelin play an important role in cardiovascular development. However, the role of apelin signaling in stem cell recruitment after ischemia is unknown.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the role of apelin signaling in recruitment after ischemia.
METHODS AND RESULTS: Aplnr was specifically expressed in circulating cKit+/Flk1+ cells but not in circulating Sca1+/Flk1+ and Lin+ cells. cKit+/Flk1+/Aplnr+ cells increased significantly early after myocardial ischemia but not after hind limb ischemia, indicative of an important role for apelin/Aplnr in cell recruitment during the nascent biological repair response after myocardial damage. In line with this finding, apelin expression was upregulated in the infarcted myocardium. Injection of apelin into the ischemic myocardium resulted in accelerated and increased recruitment of cKit+/Flk1+/Aplnr+ cells to the heart. Recruited Aplnr+/cKit+/Flk1+ cells promoted neovascularization in the peri-infarct area by paracrine activity rather than active transdifferentiation, resulting into cardioprotection as indicated by diminished scar formation and improved residual cardiac function. Aplnr knockdown in the bone marrow resulted in aggravation of myocardial ischemia-associated damage, which could not be rescued by apelin.
CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that apelin functions as a new and potent chemoattractant for circulating cKit+/Flk1+/Aplnr+ cells during early myocardial repair, providing myocardial protection against ischemic damage by improving neovascularization via paracine action.
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