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Abstract

Multiparameter flow cytometry was applied on normal human bone marrow (BM) cells to study the lineage commitment of progenitor cells ie, CD34+ cells. Lineage commitment of the CD34+ cells into the erythroid lineage was assessed by the coexpression of high levels of the CD71 antigen, the myeloid lineage by coexpression of the CD33 antigen and the B-lymphoid lineage by the CD10 antigen. Three color immunofluorescence experiments showed that all CD34+ BM cells that expressed the CD71, CD33, and CD10 antigens, concurrently stained brightly with anti-CD38 monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs). In addition, the CD38 antigen was brightly expressed on early T lymphocytes in human thymus, characterized by CD34, CD5, and CD7 expression. Only 1% of the CD34+ cells, 0.01% of nucleated cells in normal BM, did not express the CD38 antigen. The CD34+, CD38- cell population lacked differentiation markers and were homogeneous primitive blast cells by morphology. In contrast the CD34+, CD38 bright cell populations were heterogeneous in morphology and contained myeloblasts and erythroblasts, as well as lymphoblasts. These features are in agreement with properties expected from putative pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells; indeed, the CD34 antigen density decreased concurrently with increasing CD38 antigen density suggesting an upregulation of the CD38 antigen on differentiation of the CD34+ cells. Further evidence for a strong enrichment of early hematopoietic precursors in the CD34+, CD38- cell fraction was obtained from culture experiments in which CD34+ cell fractions with increasing density of the CD38 antigen were sorted singularly and assayed for blast colony formation. On day 14 of incubation, interleukin-3 (IL-3), IL-6, and GM-CSF, G-CSF, and erythropoietin (Epo) were added in each well. Twenty-five percent of the single sorted cells that expressed CD34 but lacked CD38 antigen gave rise to primitive colonies 28 to 34 days after cell sorting. The ability to form primitive colonies decreased rapidly with increasing density of the CD38 antigen. During 120 days of culture, up to five sequential generations of colonies were obtained after replating of the first-generation primitive colonies. This study provides direct evidence for the existence of a single class of progenitors with extensive proliferative capacity in human BM and provides an experimental approach for their purification, manipulation, and further characterization.