(HealthDay News) – Type 1 diabetes patients with early retinopathy have abnormalities in their endothelial progenitor cells (EPC), a cell type released into the circulation as a result of vascular damage, according to a study published online Feb. 14 in Diabetes.

Gianpaolo Zerbini, MD, PhD, from the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, and colleagues investigated whether EPC could be used as a biomarker of early nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy in 20 type 1 diabetes patients 20 years or younger with retinopathy, 19 type 1 diabetes patients 7 years or younger without retinopathy, and 17 type 1 diabetes patients 23 years or older without retinopathy. Each group also had a similar number of matched controls without diabetes.

The researchers found that, of the two subtypes of EPC, only the form carrying both endothelial and monocytic markers known as colony-forming units (CFU)-Hill cells was associated with retinopathy. EPC from patients with retinopathy formed more colonies in vitro and had reduced levels of proteins involved in homing at sites of vascular injury.

“CFU-Hill cells are potential informers of diabetic microangiopathy but may be preempted from carrying out reparative functions if the molecular abnormalities compromise interactions with the damaged vascular wall,” Zerbini and colleagues conclude.

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