Concise Review: Aldehyde Dehydrogenase Bright Stem and Progenitor Cell Populations from Normal Tissues: Characteristics, Activities, and Emerging Uses in Regenerative Medicine§


  • Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.

  • Author Contributions: A.E.B. wrote the manuscript.

  • §

    First published online in STEM CELLSEXPRESS February 4, 2011; available online without subscription through the open access option.


Flow cytometry has been used to detect cells that express high levels of the aldehyde dehydrogenase activity in normal tissues. Such ALDH bright (ALDHbr) cell populations have been sorted from human cord blood, bone marrow, mobilized peripheral blood, skeletal muscle, and breast tissue and from the rodent brain, pancreas, and prostate. A variety of hematopoietic, endothelial, and mutiltipotential mesenchymal progenitors are enriched in the human bone marrow, cord, and peripheral blood ALDHbr populations. Multipotential neural progenitors are enriched in rodent brain tissue, and tissue-specific progenitors in the other tissue types. In xenograft models, uncultured human bone marrow and cord ALDHbr cells home to damaged tissue and protect mice against acute ischemic injury by promoting angiogenesis. Uncultured cord ALDHbr cells also deploy to nonhematopoietic tissues and protect animals in CCl4 intoxication and chronic multiorgan failure models. Mouse ALDHbr cells and cells derived from them in culture protect animals in a chronic neurodegenerative disease model. Purifying ALDHbr cells appears to increase their ability to repair tissues in these animal models. Clinical studies suggest that the number of ALDHbr cells present in hematopoietic grafts or circulating in the blood of cardiovascular disease patients is related to clinical outcomes or disease severity. ALDHbr cells have been used to supplement unrelated cord blood transplant and to treat patients with ischemic heart failure and critical limb ischemia. ALDH activity can play several physiological roles in stem and progenitor cells that may potentiate their utility in cell therapy. STEM Cells 2011;29:570–575