Bone-marrow-derived EPCs (endothelial progenitor cells) play an integral role in the regulation and protection of the endothelium, as well as new vessel formation. Peripheral circulating EPC number and function are robust biomarkers of vascular risk for a multitude of diseases, particularly CVD (cardiovascular disease). Importantly, using EPCs as a biomarker is independent of both traditional and non-traditional risk factors (e.g. hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia and C-reactive protein), with infused ex vivo-expanded EPCs showing potential for improved endothelial function and either reducing the risk of events or enhancing recovery from ischaemia. However, as the number of existing cardiovascular risk factors is variable between patients, simple EPC counts do not adequately describe vascular disease risk in all clinical conditions and, as such, the risk of CVD remains. It is likely that this limitation is attributable to variation in the definition of EPCs, as well as a difference in the interaction between EPCs and other cells involved in vascular control such as pericytes, smooth muscle cells and macrophages. For EPCs to be used regularly in clinical practice, agreement on definitions of EPC subtypes is needed, and recognition that function of EPCs (rather than number) may be a better marker of vascular risk in certain CVD risk states. The present review focuses on the identification of measures to improve individual risk stratification and, further, to potentially individualize patient care to address specific EPC functional abnormalities. Herein, we describe that future therapeutic use of EPCs will probably rely on a combination of strategies, including optimization of the function of adjunct cell types to prime tissues for the effect of EPCs.

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