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AIMS: The formation of endothelial cell-colony forming units (EC-CFUs) is increased by vascular injury, although their function in vivo is unclear. We, therefore, examined the constituents of EC-CFUs and the mechanisms of their generation. METHODS AND RESULTS: We performed immunohistochemical characterization of EC-CFUs and their mononuclear precursors. Using fluorescent-activated cell sorting, we evaluated the capacity of mononuclear subpopulations to generate EC-CFUs, and monitored their migratory behaviour when co-incubated with EC-CFUs. Time-lapse microscopy was used to observe colony maturation. Cellular proliferation within EC-CFUs was assessed using bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) and anti-proliferative agents. EC-CFUs exhibited typical endothelial characteristics; however, several endothelial markers were weakly expressed or absent. Macrophage and lymphocyte antigens were intensely expressed. EC-CFUs readily incorporated BrdU, and failed to develop in the presence of anti-proliferative agents (P < 0.01; n = 12). Time-lapse microscopy demonstrated that the characteristic EC-CFU 'spindle cells' are not EC-CFU progeny, but are mononuclear cells migrating towards, and incorporating into colonies. Only CD14(+) monocytes were necessary for EC-CFU formation. CD14 expression was progressively down-regulated during colony maturation (P < 0.001; n = 6). Although unable to generate EC-CFUs directly, CD34(+) cells could differentiate into CD14(+) cells and potentiate EC-CFU formation. CONCLUSIONS: EC-CFUs exhibit endothelial characteristics, but are predominantly CD14(+) derived macrophages and are a potent stimulus for lymphocyte migration. Proliferation is necessary for EC-CFU generation; however, colony growth also occurs as a result of leucocyte migration. Although confirmatory in vivo studies are required, EC-CFU formation likely reflects leucocyte activation as a reparatory response to vascular denudation or tissue ischaemia.

Original publication




Journal article


Cardiovasc res

Publication Date





288 - 296


Cell migration, Endothelial colony forming units, Endothelial progenitor cells, Leucocytes, Proliferation, Antigens, CD, Antigens, CD34, Biomarkers, Cell Movement, Cell Proliferation, Endoglin, Endothelial Cells, Humans, Lipopolysaccharide Receptors, Lymphocytes, Monocytes, Receptors, Cell Surface, Stem Cells