Endothelial progenitor cells in hematologic malignancies
Studies carried out in the last years have improved the understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms controlling angiogenesis during adult life in normal and pathological conditions. Some of these studies have led to the identification of some progenitor cells that sustain angiogenesis through indirect, paracrine mechanisms (hematopoietic angiogenic cells) and through direct mechanisms, i.e., through their capacity to generate a progeny of phenotypically and functionally competent endothelial cells [endothelial colony forming cells (ECFCs)]. The contribution of these progenitors to angiogenetic processes under physiological and pathological conditions is intensively investigated. Angiogenetic mechanisms are stimulated in various hematological malignancies, including chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes and multiple myeloma, resulting in an increased angiogenesis that contributes to disease progression. In some of these conditions there is preliminary evidence that some endothelial cells could derive from the malignant clone, thus leading to the speculation that the leukemic cell derives from the malignant transformation of a hemangioblastic progenitor, i.e., of a cell capable of differentiation to the hematopoietic and to the endothelial cell lineages. Our understanding of the mechanisms underlying increased angiogenesis in these malignancies not only contributed to a better knowledge of the mechanisms responsible for tumor progression, but also offered the way for the discovery of new therapeutic targets.