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Blood. 2001 Oct 15;98(8):2396-402.

Identification of mesenchymal stem/progenitor cells in human first-trimester fetal blood, liver, and bone marrow.

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  • 1Department of Maternal and Fetal Medicine, Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College School of Medicine, London, United Kingdom.


Human mesenchymal stem/progenitor cells (MSCs) have been identified in adult bone marrow, but little is known about their presence during fetal life. MSCs were isolated and characterized in first-trimester fetal blood, liver, and bone marrow. When 10(6) fetal blood nucleated cells (median gestational age, 10(+2) weeks [10 weeks, 2 days]) were cultured in 10% fetal bovine serum, the mean number (+/- SEM) of adherent fibroblastlike colonies was 8.2 +/- 0.6/10(6) nucleated cells (69.6 +/- 10/microL fetal blood). Frequency declined with advancing gestation. Fetal blood MSCs could be expanded for at least 20 passages with a mean cumulative population doubling of 50.3 +/- 4.5. In their undifferentiated state, fetal blood MSCs were CD29(+), CD44(+), SH2(+), SH3(+), and SH4(+); produced prolyl-4-hydroxylase, alpha-smooth muscle actin, fibronectin, laminin, and vimentin; and were CD45(-), CD34(-), CD14(-), CD68(-), vWF(-), and HLA-DR(-). Fetal blood MSCs cultured in adipogenic, osteogenic, or chondrogenic media differentiated, respectively, into adipocytes, osteocytes, and chondrocytes. Fetal blood MSCs supported the proliferation and differentiation of cord blood CD34(+) cells in long-term culture. MSCs were also detected in first-trimester fetal liver (11.3 +/- 2.0/10(6) nucleated cells) and bone marrow (12.6 +/- 3.6/10(6) nucleated cells). Their morphology, growth kinetics, and immunophenotype were comparable to those of fetal blood-derived MSCs and similarly differentiated along adipogenic, osteogenic, and chondrogenic lineages, even after sorting and expansion of a single mesenchymal cell. MSCs similar to those derived from adult bone marrow, fetal liver, and fetal bone marrow circulate in first-trimester human blood and may provide novel targets for in utero cellular and gene therapy.

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