Flow Cytometric Identification and Functional Characterization of Immature and Mature Circulating Endothelial Cells
Objective—We sought to identify and characterize 2 distinct populations of bona fide circulating endothelial cells, including the endothelial colony-forming cell (ECFC), by polychromatic flow cytometry (PFC), colony assays, immunomagnetic selection, and electron microscopy.
Methods and Results—Mononuclear cells from human umbilical cord blood and peripheral blood were analyzed using our recently published PFC protocol. A population of cells containing both ECFCs and mature circulating endothelial cells was determined by varying expressions of CD34, CD31, and CD146 but not AC133 and CD45. After immunomagnetic separation, these cells failed to form hematopoietic colonies, yet clonogenic endothelial colonies with proliferative potential were obtained, thus verifying their identity as ECFCs. The frequency of ECFCs were increased in cord blood and were extremely rare in the peripheral blood of healthy adults. We also detected another mature endothelial cell population in the circulation that was apoptotic. Finally, when comparing this new protocol with a prior method, we determined that the present protocol identifies circulating endothelial cells, whereas the earlier protocol identified extracellular vesicles.
Conclusion—Two populations of circulating endothelial cells, including the functionally characterized ECFC, are now identifiable in human cord blood and peripheral blood by PFC.
- Received October 10, 2011.
- Accepted January 11, 2012.
- © 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.