Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) have been identified in peripheral blood, and have been reported to be incorporated into ischemic regions such as the ischemic hindlimb. In this study, we examined whether or not transplantation of EPCs is useful for salvaging surgical flaps in vivo. At the same time, we quantitatively compared the neovascularization ability of transplanted EPCs and that of mature endothelial cells (ECs). ECs obtained from the aorta of rats by explantation and passaged several times were used in the present study. EPCs were obtained from the blood of rat hearts. The blood samples were separated by density gradient centrifugation. Light-density mononuclear cells (MNCs) were collected and cultured on plastic plates coated with rat plasma vitronectin. Cells attached at day 7 of culture were deemed to be EPCs. Then PBS (control), ECs, or EPCs (3.0 × 105 suspended in 1.0 ml PBS) were injected at the middle of a flap. Seven days after surgery, the survival lengths of the flaps were evaluated. EPC-transplanted groups revealed statistically significant augmentation of survival length compared with the other two groups (p < 0.003). EPC-transplanted groups had significantly more angiographically detectable blood vessels (p < 0.003) and significantly higher capillary density (p < 0.03) than the other two groups. Confocal microscopy revealed that EPCs were incorporated into enhanced neovascularization. These results suggest that transplantation of EPCs may be useful for salvaging surgical flaps, and EPCs are superior to ECs in neovascularization ability.
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