Adverse metabolic factors, including oxidized small and dense low density lipoprotein (ox-dmLDL) can contribute to the reduced number and the impaired functions of circulating endothelial progenitors (EPC) in diabetic patients. To elucidate the molecular mechanisms involved, EPC from normal donors were cultured in the presence of ox-dmLDL. Under these experimental conditions EPC undergo to senescent-like growth arrest. This effect is associated with Akt activation, p21 expression, p53 accumulation, and retinoblastoma protein dephosphorylation and with a reduced protective effect against oxidative damage. Moreover, depletion of endogenous p53 expression by small interfering RNA demonstrates that the integrity of this pathway is essential for senescence to occur. Activation of the Akt/p53/p21 signaling pathway and accelerated onset of senescence are also detectable in EPC from diabetic patients. Finally, diabetic EPC depleted of endogenous p53 do not undergo to senescence-growth arrest and acquire the ability to form tube-like structures in vitro. These observations identify the activation of the p53 signaling pathway as a crucial event that can contribute to the impaired neovascularization in diabetes.
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