Acute high-dose radiation injury damages the bone marrow hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell compartment. This damage compromises the functional ability of the bone marrow to produce mature blood cells and results in an increased risk of death due to hematopoietic complications. Past work has shown that the bone marrow endothelium provides critical cues, which promote hematopoietic stem cell regeneration after injury. Additionally, transfusion of endothelial cells after radiation injury has been shown to promote recovery of both the bone marrow vasculature and hematopoietic systems. In this work, we examined the regenerative capacity of intravenous infusion of umbilical cord-blood derived endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) since this is a cell source which is easy to obtain, expand and cryopreserve. We show that pre-treatment with the Wnt-antagonist Dickkopf1 (Dkk1) augments EPC regenerative function in an allogeneic mouse transplant model. Here, hematopoietic recovery was assessed in Balb/c mice after 5 Gy total-body irradiation and transplantation with C57/BL6-derived EPCs either with or without Dkk1 pre-treatment. The Dkk1-treated EPC group had significantly faster recovery of peripheral white blood cells, total bone marrow cellularity, bone marrow progenitors and BM endothelial cells compared to EPC treatment alone or saline controls. Importantly, after an LD50/30 dose of 8 Gy in the Balb/c mouse, Dkk1-treated EPCs were able to rescue 100% of irradiated mice versus 80% in the EPC control group and only 33% in the saline-treated group. To understand how Dkk1 induces regenerative function in the EPCs, we screened for pro-regenerative factors secreted by the EPC in response to Dkk1. Dkk1-treated EPCs were observed to secrete high levels of the anti-fibrotic protein follistatin as well as several proteins known to promote regeneration including EGF, VEGF and G-CSF. This work demonstrates the potential for Dkk1-treated EPCs as a rescue therapeutic for victims of acute radiation injury.

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