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This article is peer reviewed. It was originally published in Circulation Research, 2011 Dec 9;109(12):1363-74. ©American Heart Association, Inc.


RATIONALE: Recent work in animal models and humans has demonstrated the presence of organ-specific progenitor cells required for the regenerative capacity of the adult heart. In response to tissue injury, progenitor cells differentiate into specialized cells, while their numbers are maintained through mechanisms of self-renewal. The molecular cues that dictate the self-renewal of adult progenitor cells in the heart, however, remain unclear.

OBJECTIVE: We investigate the role of canonical Wnt signaling on adult cardiac side population (CSP) cells under physiological and disease conditions.

METHODS AND RESULTS: CSP cells isolated from C57BL/6J mice were used to study the effects of canonical Wnt signaling on their proliferative capacity. The proliferative capacity of CSP cells was also tested after injection of recombinant Wnt3a protein (r-Wnt3a) in the left ventricular free wall. Wnt signaling was found to decrease the proliferation of adult CSP cells, both in vitro and in vivo, through suppression of cell cycle progression. Wnt stimulation exerted its antiproliferative effects through a previously unappreciated activation of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 (IGFBP3), which requires intact IGF binding site for its action. Moreover, injection of r-Wnt3a after myocardial infarction in mice showed that Wnt signaling limits CSP cell renewal, blocks endogenous cardiac regeneration and impairs cardiac performance, highlighting the importance of progenitor cells in maintaining tissue function after injury.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study identifies canonical Wnt signaling and the novel downstream mediator, IGFBP3, as key regulators of adult cardiac progenitor self-renewal in physiological and pathological states.

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