CD34+ cells were purified from midtrimester human fetal blood and adult bone marrow samples and seeded in serum-free fibrin-clot cultures in order to evaluate the number and the responsiveness to recombinant cytokines of pluripotent (CFU-GEMM), erythroid (BFU-E), megakaryocyte (BFU-meg and CFU-meg) and granulocyte/macrophage (CFU-GM) haemopoietic progenitor cells. The number of the different haemopoietic progenitors/1 x 10(3) CD34+ cells, except CFU-meg, was significantly higher in fetal blood than in adult bone marrow in cultures stimulated by any combination of cytokines including interleukin-3 (IL-3), granulocyte/macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) or stem cell factor (SCF) plus erythropoietin (Epo). Nevertheless, whereas adult BFU-E showed a maximal growth in the presence of Epo plus IL-3 or Epo plus SCF, fetal BFU-E showed an optimal growth in the presence of Epo alone, the sensitivity of fetal BFU-E to suboptimal concentrations of Epo being approximately 10-15-fold higher than that of adult BFU-E. Addition of optimal concentrations of IL-3, GM-CSF or SCF, alone or in various combinations, to Epo-containing cultures induced a significant increase in both the number and size of fetal CFU-GEMM, and CFU-GM, and a parallel decrease of fetal BFU-E. Finally, SCF potently synergized with IL-3 in increasing the growth of both classes of fetal megakaryocyte progenitors, BFU-meg and CFU-meg.
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