Angiogenic expansion of the vasa vasorum (VV) is an important contributor to pulmonary vascular remodeling in the pathogenesis of pulmonary hypertension (PH). High proliferative potential endothelial progenitor-like cells have been described in vascular remodeling and angiogenesis in both systemic and pulmonary circulations. However, their role in hypoxia-induced pulmonary artery (PA) VV expansion in PH is not known. We hypothesized that profound PA VV neovascularization observed in a neonatal calf model of hypoxia-induced PH is due to increased numbers of subsets of high proliferative cells within the PA adventitial VV endothelial cells (VVEC). Using a single cell clonogenic assay, we found that high proliferative potential colony-forming cells (HPP-CFC) comprise a markedly higher percentage in VVEC populations isolated from the PA of hypoxic (VVEC-Hx) compared with control (VVEC-Co) calves. VVEC-Hx populations that comprised higher numbers of HPP-CFC also demonstrated markedly higher expression levels of CD31, CD105, and c-kit than VVEC-Co. In addition, significantly higher expression of CD31, CD105, and c-kit was observed in HPP-CFC vs. the VVEC of the control but not of hypoxic animals. HPP-CFC exhibited migratory and tube formation capabilities, two important attributes of angiogenic phenotype. Furthermore, HPP-CFC-Co and some HPP-CFC-Hx exhibited elevated telomerase activity, consistent with their high replicative potential, whereas a number of HPP-CFC-Hx exhibited impaired telomerase activity, suggestive of their senescence state. In conclusion, our data suggest that hypoxia-induced VV expansion involves an emergence of HPP-CFC populations of a distinct phenotype with increased angiogenic capabilities. These cells may serve as a potential target for regulating VVEC neovascularization.
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