In the past few years it has been established that the heart contains a reservoir of stem and progeni-tor cells. These cells are positive for various stem/ progenitor cell markers (Kit, Sca-1, Isl-1, and Side Population (SP) properties). The relationship be-tween the various cardiac stem cells (CSC) and progenitor cells described awaits clarification. Furthermore, they may open a new therapeutic strategies of cardiac repair based on the regenera-tion potential of cardiac stem cells. Currently, cellular cardiomyoplasty is actively explored as means of regenerating damaged myocardium using several different cell types. CSCs seem a logical cell source to exploit for cardiac regeneration therapy. Their presence into the heart, the frequent co-expression of early cardiac progenitor transcrip-tion factors, and the capability for ex vivo and in vivo differentiation toward the cardiac lineages offer promise of enhanced cardiogenicity compared to other cell sources. CSCs, when isolated from various animal models by selection based on c-Kit, Sca-1, and/or MDR1, have shown cardiac regeneration potential in vivo following injection in the infracted myocardium. Recently, we have successfully isolated CSCs from small biopsies of human myocardium and expanded them ex vivo by many folds without losing differentiation potential into cardiomyocytes and vascular cells, bringing autologous transplantation of CSCs closer to clinical evaluation. These cells are spontaneously shed from human surgical specimens and murine heart samples in primary culture. This heteroge-neous population of cells forms multi-cellular clusters, dubbed cardiospheres (CSs), in suspen-sion culture. CSs are composed of clonally-derived cells, consist of proliferating c-Kit positive cells primarily in their core and differentiating cells expressing cardiac and endothelial cell markers on their periphery. Although the intracardiac origin of adult myocytes has been unequivocally docu-mented, the potential of an extracardiac source of cells, able to repopulate the lost CSCs in patholo-gical conditions (infarct) cannot be excluded and will be discussed in this review. The delivery of human CSs or of CSs-derived cells into the injured heart of the SCID mouse resulted in engraftment, migration, myocardial regeneration and improve-ment of left ventricular function. Our method for ex vivo expansion of resident CSCs for subsequent autologous transplantation back into the heart, may give these cell populations, the resident and the transplanted one, the combined ability to mediate myocardial regeneration to an appreciable degree, and may change the way in which cardiovascular disease will be approached in the future.
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