Generation of Functional Blood Vessels from a Single c-kit+ Adult Vascular Endothelial Stem Cell.
In adults, the growth of blood vessels, a process known as angiogenesis, is essential for organ growth and repair. In many disorders including cancer, angiogenesis becomes excessive. The cellular origin of new vascular endothelial cells (ECs) during blood vessel growth in angiogenic situations has remained unknown. Here, we provide evidence for adult vascular endothelial stem cells (VESCs) that reside in the blood vessel wall endothelium. VESCs constitute a small subpopulation within CD117+ (c-kit+) ECs capable of undergoing clonal expansion while other ECs have a very limited proliferative capacity. Isolated VESCs can produce tens of millions of endothelial daughter cells in vitro. A single transplanted c-kit-expressing VESC by the phenotype lin-CD31+CD105+Sca1+CD117+ can generate in vivo functional blood vessels that connect to host circulation. VESCs also have long-term self-renewal capacity, a defining functional property of adult stem cells. To provide functional verification on the role of c-kit in VESCs, we show that a genetic deficit in endothelial c-kit expression markedly decreases total colony-forming VESCs. In vivo, c-kit expression deficit resulted in impaired EC proliferation and angiogenesis and retardation of tumor growth. Isolated VESCs could be used in cell-based therapies for cardiovascular repair to restore tissue vascularization after ischemic events. VESCs also provide a novel cellular target to block pathological angiogenesis and cancer growth.