Objectives: External counter pulsation therapy (ECPT) offers symptomatic relief and improves ischemia in patients with refractory angina pectoris. We aimed to determine the effects of ECPT on circulating endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs). Methods: We prospectively studied 25 patients with angina pectoris treated with ECPT (n = 15) or receiving standard care (n = 10). The number of EPCs positive for CD34 and kinase insert domain receptor (KDR) was determined by flow cytometry and the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) was assessed in a 7-day culture, before ECPT and after 9 weeks. Results: ECPT improved anginal score from a median of 3.0 to 2.0 (p < 0.001). Concomitantly, ECPT increased EPC number from a median of 10.2 to 17.8/105 mononuclear cells (p < 0.05), and CFUs from 3.5 to 11.0 (p = 0.01). Flow-mediated dilatation was improved by ECPT from 7.4 to 12.2% (p < 0.001) and correlated with EPC-CFUs (r = 0.461, p = 0.027). The levels of asymmetric dimethylarginine were reduced by ECPT from 0.70 to 0.60 µmol/l (p < 0.01). In contrast, the same parameters did not change in the control group, before and after follow-up. Conclusions: The present pilot study shows, for the first time, that ECPT is associated with increased number and colony-forming capacity of circulating EPCs.

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