Cells, tissues, organs

SSEA-4+ CD34- cells in the adult human heart show the molecular characteristics of a novel cardiomyocyte progenitor population.

PMID 25171543


Stage-specific embryonic antigen (SSEA) expression is used to describe the differentiation state of an embryonic stem cell (ESC). In human ESCs, SSEA-3 and SSEA-4 are highly expressed in undifferentiated cells and downregulated upon differentiation. SSEA-4 has also been described as a marker for adult stem cells in various tissues, including human neonatal cardiac tissue. However, there is currently little data on the expression of SSEAs in human adult cardiac tissue. We obtained right and left atrial biopsies from patients undergoing cardiac surgery. These were dissociated, stained for SSEAs and other cardiac stem cell markers and analyzed by flow cytometry. Directly isolated cells expressed variable levels of SSEA-1, SSEA-3 and SSEA-4. The SSEA-1+ population was established as contaminating hematopoietic cells. The SSEA-4+ population, on the other hand, could be subdivided based on the endothelial progenitor marker CD34. The SSEA-4+ CD34- population in the right atrium had a high gene expression of both early (TBX5, NKX2.5) and late (TNNT2) cardiomyocyte markers. The SSEA-4+ CD34+ population, on the other hand, overlapped with previously described C-kit+ CD45- cardiac stem cells. Primary monolayer-cultured cells retained expression of SSEAs while the cardiomyogenic specification in the SSEA-4+ CD34- population was lost. In tissue sections, SSEA-4+ cells could be identified both within and outside the myocardium. Within the myocardium, some SSEA-4+ cells coexpressed cardiomyogenic markers. In conclusion, the results show that the adult human heart expresses SSEAs and that there is a subpopulation of SSEA-4+ CD34- cells that show features of a cardiomyocyte progenitor population.