The number of circulating endothelial progenitor cells in an individuals blood –– the precursor cells to those that line the insides of blood vessels –– may be an indicator of overall cardiovascular health, according to research by scientists at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and Emory University School of Medicine. The research was published in the Feb. 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The endothelial cells lining the blood vessels provide essential communication between the vessels themselves and circulating blood cells, allowing the blood to flow smoothly. In diseases such as atherosclerosis, however, the endothelial layer becomes damaged and the vessels do not function efficiently. Until recently, scientists believed that nearby endothelial cells were recruited to help repair damaged blood vessels or form new ones to circumvent blocked vessels or to repair wounds. Evidence now shows, however, that endothelial progenitor cells, probably generated in the bone marrow, circulate in the bloodstream and are recruited to form new blood vessels or repair damaged ones.
The NHLBI and Emory scientists postulated that endothelial cells generated in the bone marrow contribute to continuous repair of the endothelial lining of blood vessels and that a lack of these cells can lead to vascular dysfunction and the progression of cardiovascular disease. They measured the number of "colony-forming units," or clumps, of endothelial progenitor cells in the peripheral blood of 45 men with a mean age of approximately 50 years. The men had various degrees of cardiovascular risk, but no history of cardiovascular disease. The researchers also measured blood vessel function using non-invasive high-resolution ultrasound of the brachial artery.
Ron Sauder | EurekAlert!
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