Ischaemic cardiac disease is associated with a loss of cardiomyocytes and an intrinsic lack of myocardial renewal. Recent work has shown that the heart retains limited cardiomyocyte proliferation, which remains inefficient when facing pathological conditions. While broadly active in the neonatal mammalian heart, this mechanism becomes quiescent soon after birth, suggesting loss of regenerative potential with maturation into adulthood. A key question is whether this temporary regenerative window can be enhanced via appropriate stimulation and further extended. Recently the search for novel therapeutic approaches for heart disease has centred on stem cell biology. The “paracrine effect” has been proposed as a promising strategy to boost endogenous reparative and regenerative mechanisms from within the cardiac tissue by exploiting the modulatory potential of soluble stem cell-secreted factors. As such, growing interest has been specifically addressed towards stem/progenitor cell-secreted extracellular vesicles (EVs), which can be easily isolated in vitro from cell-conditioned medium. This review will provide a comprehensive overview of the current paradigm on cardiac repair and regeneration, with a specific focus on the role and mechanism(s) of paracrine action of EVs from cardiac stromal progenitors as compared to exogenous stem cells in order to discuss the optimal choice for future therapy. In addition, the challenges to overcoming translational EV biology from bench to bedside for future cardiac regenerative medicine will be discussed.
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