Pregestational maternal diabetes induces congenital heart defects (CHDs). Cardiac dysfunction after palliative surgical procedures contributes to the high mortality of CHD patients. Autologous or allogeneic stem cell therapies are effective for improving cardiac function in animal models and clinical trials. c-kit+ cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs), the most recognized CPCs, have the following basic properties of stem cells: self-renewal, multicellular clone formation, and differentiation into multiple cardiac lineages. However, there is ongoing debate regarding whether c-kit+ CPCs can give rise to sufficient cardiomyocytes. A new hypothesis to address the beneficial effect of c-kit+ CPCs is that these cells stimulate endogenous cardiac cells through a paracrine function in producing a robust secretome and exosomes. The values of other cardiac CPCs, including Sca1+ CPCs and cardiosphere-derived cells, are beginning to be revealed. These cells may be better choices than c-kit+ CPCs for generating cardiomyocytes. Adult mesenchymal stem cells are considered immune-incompetent and effective for improving cardiac function. Autologous CPC therapy may be limited by the observation that maternal diabetes adversely affects the biological function of embryonic stem cells and CPCs. Future studies should focus on determining the mechanistic action of these cells, identifying new CPC markers, selecting highly effective CPCs, and engineering cell-free products.

Jianxiang Zhong1, Shengbing Wang1, Wei-Bin Shen1, Sunjay Kaushal2, and Peixin Yang1,3

Published in final edited form as:Pediatr Res. 2018 January ; 83(1-2): 275–282. doi:10.1038/pr.2017.259.