BACKGROUND - Certain bone marrow-derived cell populations, called endothelial progenitor cells, have been reported to possess angiogenic activity. Experimental data suggest that depletion of these angiogenic cell populations may promote atherogenesis, but limited data are available on their relation to subclinical atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in humans.
METHODS AND RESULTS - We studied 889 participants of the Framingham Heart Study who were free of clinically apparent cardiovascular disease (mean age, 65 years; 55% women). Participants underwent endothelial progenitor cell phenotyping with an early-outgrowth colony-forming unit assay and cell surface markers. Participants also underwent noncontrast multidetector computed tomography to assess the presence of subclinical atherosclerosis, as reflected by the burden of coronary artery calcification and abdominal aortic calcification. Across decreasing tertiles of colony-forming units, there was a progressive increase in median coronary artery calcification and abdominal aortic calcification scores. In multivariable analyses adjusting for traditional cardiovascular risk factors, each 1-SD increase in colony-forming units was associated with a ≈16% decrease in coronary artery calcification (P=0.02) and 17% decrease in abdominal aortic calcification (P=0.03). In contrast, neither CD34(+)/KDR(+) nor CD34(+) variation was associated with significant differences in coronary or aortic calcification.
CONCLUSIONS - In this large, community-based sample of men and women, lower colony-forming unit number was associated with a higher burden of subclinical atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and aorta. Decreased angiogenic potential could contribute to the development of atherosclerosis in humans.