Identification of Human Very Small Embryonic like Stem Cells (VSELS) in Human Heart Tissue Among Young and Old Individuals

  • Mohamed El-Helw
  • Lakshman Chelvarajan
  • Mohamed Abo-Aly
  • Mohanad Soliman
  • Greg Milburn
  • Autumn L. Conger
  • Kenneth Campbell
  • Mariusz Z. Ratajczak
  • Ahmed Abdel-LatifEmail author


Very Small Embryonic-Like (VSEL) stem cells are a proposed pluripotent population, residing in adult tissues. VSELs have been described in multiple tissues including bone marrow, cord blood, and gonads. They exhibit multiple characteristics of embryonic stem cells including the ability to differentiate into cellular lineages of all three germ layers, including cardiomyocytes and vascular endothelial cells. However, their presence in adult solid organs such as heart in humans has not been established. VSELs are valuable source of stem cells for tissue regeneration and replacement of cells for turnover and usual wear-and-tear. The purpose of our study was to explore the existence of human VSELs (huVSELs) in human heart tissue and examine the changes in their prevalence with aging and cardiac disease. Human heart tissue, collected from healthy and ischemic heart disease subjects was examined for the prevalence of VSELS, defined as CD45-/CD133+/SSEA4+. Both epicardial and endocardial tissues were examined comparing VSEL numbers across different age groups. Our data confirm the existence of huVSELs in adult hearts with decreasing prevalence during aging. This is the first evidence of huVSELs in adult cardiac tissue. Cardiac huVSELs could be further explored in future studies to characterize their primitive potential and therapeutic potential in regenerative studies.


Very small embryonic like stem cells Epicardium, endocardium Human heart Age 



Dr. Abdel-Latif is supported by the University of Kentucky COBRE Early Career Program (P20 GM103527) and the NIH Grant R01 HL124266.

We thank the University of Kentucky Biorepository core for their help collecting and curating the human cardiac tissue samples.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

None of the authors have conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mohamed El-Helw
    • 1
  • Lakshman Chelvarajan
    • 1
  • Mohamed Abo-Aly
    • 1
  • Mohanad Soliman
    • 1
  • Greg Milburn
    • 1
  • Autumn L. Conger
    • 1
  • Kenneth Campbell
    • 1
  • Mariusz Z. Ratajczak
    • 2
  • Ahmed Abdel-Latif
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Saha Cardiovascular Research CenterUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Brown Cancer CenterUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  3. 3.Lexington VA Medical Center and Saha Cardiovascular Research CenterUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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