Recent evidence has shown that vascular function depends not only on cells within the vessels, but is also significantly modulated by circulating cells derived from the bone marrow. A number of studies indicate that an early reendothelialization by circulating endothelial precursors after vascular injury prevents excessive cell proliferation and restenosis. Conversely, other studies concluded that the homing of other cell fractions, consisting mainly of smooth muscle precursors, cause pathological remodelling. Different cell types have been identified and characterized so far as circulating precursors able to participate in vascular repair by homing and differentiating towards endothelial cells or smooth muscle cells. Among these, endothelial precursor cells, smooth muscle progenitor cells, mesenchymal stem cells and others have been described. The origins, the hierarchy, the role and the markers of these different cell populations are still controversial. Nevertheless, different strategies have been developed so far in animal models to induce the mobilization and the recruitment of stem cells to the injury site, based on physical training, hormone injection and application of stem cell-capturing coated stents. It should also be mentioned that the limited data currently available derived from clinical trials provide contrasting results about the effective role of vascular cell precursors in restenosis prevention, thus indicating that conclusions derived from studies in animal models cannot always be directly applied to humans and that caution should be used in the manipulation of circulating progenitor cells for therapeutic strategies.
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