Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) play an important role in postnatal neovascularization of ischemic tissue. Ex vivo expansion of EPCs might be useful for potential clinical cell therapy of myocardial ischemia. However, cultivation of primary cells leads to cellular aging (senescence), thereby severely limiting the proliferative capacity. Therefore, we investigated whether statins might be able to prevent senescence of EPCs. EPCs were isolated from peripheral blood and characterized. After ex vivo cultivation, EPCs became senescent as determined by acidic beta-galactosidase staining. Atorvastatin or mevastatin dose-dependently inhibited the onset of EPC senescence in culture. Moreover, atorvastatin increased proliferation of EPCs as assessed by BrdU incorporation and colony-forming capacity. Whereas geranylgeranylpyrophosphate or farnesylpyrophosphate reduced the senescence inhibitory effect of atorvastatin, NO synthase inhibition, antioxidants, or Rho kinase inhibitors had no effect. To get further insights into the underlying downstream effects of statins, we measured telomerase activity and determined the expression of various cell cycle regulatory genes by using a microarray assay. Whereas telomerase activity did not change, atorvastatin modulated expression of cell cycle genes including upregulation of cyclins and downregulation of the cell cycle inhibitor p27Kip1. Taken together, statins inhibited senescence of EPCs independent of NO, reactive oxygen species, and Rho kinase, but dependent on geranylgeranylpyrophosphate. Atorvastatin-mediated prevention of EPC senescence appears to be mediated by the regulation of various cell cycle proteins. The inhibition of EPC senescence and induction of EPC proliferation by statins in vitro may importantly improve the functional activity of EPCs for potential cell therapy.
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