Non-invasive far infrared radiation (FIR) has been observed to improve the health of patients with coronary artery disease (CAD). Endothelial colony forming cells (ECFCs) contribute to vascular repair and CAD. The goal of this study was to uncover the role of FIR in ECFCs function and to reveal potential biomarkers for indication of FIR therapy in CAD patients. FIR significantly enhanced in vitro migration (transwell assay) and tube formation (tube length) capacities in a subpopulation of CAD ECFCs. Clinical parameters associated with the responsiveness of ECFCs to FIR include smoking and gender. ECFCs from CAD patients that smoke did not respond to FIR in most cases. In contrast, ECFCs from females showed a higher responsiveness to FIR than ECFCs from males. To decipher the molecular mechanisms by which FIR modulates ECFCs functions, regardless of sex, RNA sequencing analysis was performed in both genders of FIR-responsive and FIR-non/unresponsive ECFCs. Gene Ontology (GO) analysis of FIR up-regulated genes indicated that the pathways enriched in FIR-responsive ECFCs were involved in cell viability, angiogenesis and transcription. Small RNA sequencing illustrated 18 and 14 miRNAs that are up- and down-regulated, respectively, in FIR-responsive CAD ECFCs in both genders. Among the top 5 up- and down-regulated miRNAs, down-regulation of miR-548aq-3p in CAD ECFCs after FIR treatment was observed in FIR-responsive CAD ECFCs by RT-qPCR. Down-regulation of miR-548aq-3p was correlated with the tube formation activity of CAD ECFCs enhanced by FIR. After establishment of the down-regulation of miR-548aq-3p by FIR in CAD ECFCs, we demonstrated through overexpression and knockdown experiments that miR-548aq-3p contributes to the inhibition of the tube formation of ECFCs. This study suggests the down-regulation of miR-548aq-3p by FIR may contribute to the improvement of ECFCs function, and represents a novel biomarker for therapeutic usage of FIR in CAD patients.
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