Statins, inhibitors of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase, are used to reduce cholesterol biosynthesis in the liver. Accordingly, statins regulate nitric oxide (NO) and glutamate metabolism, inflammation, angiogenesis, immunity and endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) functions. The function of EPCs are regulated by stromal cell-derived factor 1 (SDF-1), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and transforming growth factor β (TGF-β), etc. Even though the pharmacologic mechanisms by which statins affect the neovasculogenesis of circulating EPCs, it is still unknown whether statins affect the EPCs function through the regulation of CXCR4, a SDF-1 receptor expression. Therefore, we desired to explore the effects of statins on CXCR4 expression in EPC-mediated neovascularization by in vitro and in vivo analyses. In animal studies, we analyzed the effects of atorvastatin or rosuvastatin treatments in recovery of capillary density and blood flow, the expression of vWF and CXCR4 at ischemia sites in hindlimb ischemia ICR mice. Additionally, we analyzed whether the atorvastatin or rosuvastatin treatments increased the mobilization, homing, and CXCR4 expression of EPCs in hindlimb ischemia ICR mice that underwent bone marrow transplantation. The results indicated that statins treatment led to significantly more CXCR4- positive endothelial progenitor cells incorporated into ischemic sites and in the blood compared with control mice. In vivo, we isolated human EPCs and analyzed the effect of statins treatment on the vasculogenic ability of EPCs and the expression of CXCR4. Compared with the control groups, the neovascularization ability of EPCs was significantly improved in the atorvastatin or rosuvastatin group; this improvement was dependent on CXCR4 up-regulation. The efficacy of statins on improving EPC neovascularization was related to the SDF-1α/CXCR4 axis and might be regulated by the NO. In conclusion, atorvastatin and rosuvastatin improved neovascularization in hindlimb ischemia mice; this effect may have been mediated by increased CXCR4 expression in EPCs.
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