News Feature | April 29, 2014

Researchers Discover Effect Of Circulating Cell Types On Cardiovascular Health

By Estel Grace Masangkay


Using a bioinformatics approach, Ohio State University researchers found that isolation of the endothelial progenitor cell might not be necessary to understand and possibly improve cardiovascular health. Instead, stem cells in circulating blood might be used to study cardiovascular health.

Nicanor Moldovan, senior author of the study and a research associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at The Ohio State University, said, “There are people who still dream that the prototypical progenitors for several components of the cardiovascular tree will be found and isolated. I decided to focus the analysis on the whole nonpurified cell population – the blood as it is.”

The research group decided to skip the traditional method of isolation and keep the entire blood sample for analysis. The team analyzed gene activity at the messenger RNA level, then narrowed the search to detect mRNA for 45 genes in the blood cells. The sorting produced gene clusters which were aggregated into two modules. A total of 15 primitive and cardiovascular genes showed a clear connection in a module. Blood samples from healthy volunteers helped define the cardiovascular-relevant module, which suggested that higher expression of the identified genes were associated with younger age, more flexible vessels, and lower blood pressure.

By observing gene activity patterns in the blood, the researchers concluded that multiple cell types with primitive characteristics circulating in the blood seem to provide similar benefits expected from a stem cell. This includes the popular target endothelial progenitor cell. These cells may protect and repair blood cells as a way to keep the heart healthy. They also retain ‘primitive’ properties as a first line of defense against injuries.

With the knowledge of expression patterns of 45 genes in the blood, scientists can now search for molecules produced by the genes to identify which blood cells resemble adult stem cells. The researchers said that the gene module can be expanded to add new candidate members using the same bioinformatics approach.

“Our goal is to assess the status of the system of progenitors in the bloodstream in its natural complexity, to understand and anticipate the prognosis of what's going to happen with the patient. It requires letting go of the old paradigm of 'cell type' and embracing the more abstract notion of a cluster of genes – a 'metagene'– that associates with blood and changes as the condition of a patient changes,” said Professor Moldovan.

The study’s analysis could be used to diagnose some diseases, monitor treatment effects, and determine the prognosis of a cardiovascular patient. The researchers’ study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.