Advanced valvular lesions often contain ectopic mesenchymal tissues, which may be elaborated by an unidentified multipotent progenitor subpopulation within the valve interstitium. The identity, frequency, and differentiation potential of the putative progenitor subpopulation are unknown. The objectives of this study were to determine whether valve interstitial cells (VICs) contain a subpopulation of multipotent mesenchymal progenitor cells, to measure the frequencies of the mesenchymal progenitors and osteoprogenitors, and to characterize the osteoprogenitor subpopulation because of its potential role in calcific aortic valve disease. The multilineage potential of freshly isolated and subcultured porcine aortic VICs was tested in vitro. Progenitor frequencies and self-renewal capacity were determined by limiting dilution and colony-forming unit assays. VICs were inducible to osteogenic, adipogenic, chondrogenic, and myofibrogenic lineages. Osteogenic differentiation was also observed in situ in sclerotic porcine leaflets. Primary VICs had strikingly high frequencies of mesenchymal progenitors (48.0 ± 5.7%) and osteoprogenitors (44.1 ± 12.0%). High frequencies were maintained for up to six population doublings, but decreased after nine population doublings to 28.2 ± 9.9% and 5.8 ± 1.3%, for mesenchymal progenitors and osteoprogenitors, respectively. We further identified the putative osteoprogenitor subpopulation as morphologically distinct cells that occur at high frequency, self-renew, and elaborate bone matrix from single cells. These findings demonstrate that the aortic valve is rich in a mesenchyma l progenitor cell population that has strong potential to contribute to valve calcification
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