Background: Kidney transplantation (RTx) leads to amelioration of endothelial function in patients with advanced renal failure. Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) may play a key role in this repair process. The aim of this study was to determine the impact of RTx and immunosuppressive therapy on the number of circulating EPCs. Methods: We analyzed 52 RTx patients (58±13 years; 33 males, mean ± SD) and 16 age- and gender-matched subjects with normal kidney function (57±17; 10 males). RTx patients received a calcineurin inhibitor (CNI)-based (65%) or a CNI-free therapy (35%) and steroids. EPC number was determined by double positive staining for CD133/VEGFR2 and CD34/VEGFR2 by flow cytometry. Stromal cell-derived factor 1 alpha (SDF-1) levels were assessed by ELISA. Experimentally, to dissociate the impact of RTx from the impact of immunosuppressants, we used the 5/6 nephrectomy model. The animals were treated with a CNI-based or a CNI-free therapy, and EPCs (Sca+cKit+) and CD26+ cells were determined by flow cytometry. Results: Compared to controls, circulating number of CD34+/VEGFR2+ and CD133+/VEGFR2+ EPCs increased in RTx patients. There were no correlations between EPC levels and statin, erythropoietin or use of renin angiotensin system blockers in our study. Indeed, multivariate analysis showed that SDF-1 - a cytokine responsible for EPC mobilization - is independently associated with the EPC number. 5/6 rats presented decreased EPC counts in comparison to control animals. Immunosuppressive therapy was able to restore normal EPC values in 5/6 rats. These effects on EPC number were associated with reduced number of CD26+ cells, which might be related to consequent accumulation of SDF-1. Conclusions: We conclude that kidney transplantation and its associated use of immunosuppressive drugs increases the number of circulating EPCs via the manipulation of the CD26/SDF-1 axis. Increased EPC count may be associated to endothelial repair and function in these patients. © 2011 Di Marco et al.