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Endothelial colony-forming cells (ECFCs) are obtained from the culture of human peripheral blood mononuclear cell (hPBMNC) fractions and are characterised by high proliferative and pro-vasculogenic potential, which makes them of great interest for cell therapy. Here, we describe the detection of protease-activated receptor (PAR) 1 and 2 amongst the surface proteins expressed in ECFCs. Both receptors are functionally coupled to extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) 1 and 2, which become activated and phosphorylated in response to selective PAR1- or PAR2-activating peptides. Specific stimulation of PAR1, but not PAR2, significantly inhibits capillary-like tube formation by ECFCs in vitro, suggesting that tubulogenesis is negatively regulated by proteases able to stimulate PAR1 (e.g. thrombin). The activation of ERKs is not involved in the regulation of tubulogenesis in vitro, as suggested by use of the MEK inhibitor PD98059 and by the fact that PAR2 stimulation activates ERKs without affecting capillary tube formation. Both qPCR and immunoblotting showed a significant downregulation of vascular endothelial growth factor 2 (VEGFR2) in response to PAR1 stimulation. Moreover, the addition of VEGF (50-100 ng/ml) but not basic Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) (25-100 ng/ml) rescued tube formation by ECFCs treated with PAR1-activating peptide. Therefore, we propose that reduction of VEGF responsiveness resulting from down-regulation of VEGFR2 is underlying the anti-tubulogenic effect of PAR1 activation. Although the role of PAR2 remains elusive, this study sheds new light on the regulation of the vasculogenic activity of ECFCs and suggests a potential link between adult vasculogenesis and the coagulation cascade.
Fortunato, T. M., Vara, D. S., Wheeler-Jones, C. P., & Pula, G. (2014). Expression of protease-activated receptor 1 and 2 and anti-tubulogenic activity of protease-activated receptor 1 in human endothelial colony-forming cells. PLoS ONE, 9(10), [e109375]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109375