The effects of a novel cytokine FLK2/FLT3 ligand (FL) on human fetal bone marrow-derived CD34(+)CD19(+) pro-B cells were analyzed in a stromal-cell-independent, serum-deprived culture system. FL, like interleukin-3 (IL-3), synergized with IL-7 in promoting pro-B cell growth, and differentiation of these cells into CD34(-)CD19(+)clgM(+)slgM(-) pre-B cells, whereas a small proportion of these cells even differentiate into more mature slgM(+) B cells. In contrast, KIT ligand (KL) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) were ineffective in promoting IL-7-dependent pro-B cell growth and differentiation. Maximal levels of pro-B cell expansion, generally resulting in 15- to 30-fold increases in cellularity, were obtained in cultures supplemented with optimal doses of FL + IL-7 + IL-3. The addition of mouse bone marrow stromal cells further enhanced the proliferation and differentiation of pro-B cells obtained in the presence of these three cytokines. Under these conditions, cultures could be maintained for more than 4 weeks, and in general 40- to 50-fold increases in cell numbers were observed by 3 weeks of culture, The percentages of clgM(+) and slgM(+) B cells increased 1.5- to 3-fold and 2-fold, respectively, suggesting that stromal cells may provide additional costimulatory signals for human B-cell growth and differentiation that are different from IL-7, IL-3, and FL. Collectively, our results indicate that FL, in contrast to KL, strongly promotes long-term expansion and differentiation of human pro-B cells in the presence of IL-7 or in combination of IL-7 and IL-3, which is a novel property of this hematopoietic growth factor. (C) 1996 by The American Society of Hematology.
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