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Biol Reprod. 2004 Jun;70(6):1738-50. Epub 2004 Feb 6.

Clonogenicity of human endometrial epithelial and stromal cells.

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  • 1Centre for Women's Health Research, Monash University Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Monash Medical Centre, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia.


The human endometrium regenerates from the lower basalis layer, a germinal compartment that persists after menstruation to give rise to the new upper functionalis layer. Because adult stem cells are present in tissues that undergo regeneration, we hypothesized that human endometrium contains small populations of epithelial and stromal stem cells responsible for cyclical regeneration of endometrial glands and stroma and that these cells would exhibit clonogenicity, a stem-cell property. The aims of this study were to determine 1) the clonogenic activity of human endometrial epithelial and stromal cells, 2) which growth factors support this clonogenic activity, and 3) determine the cellular phenotypes of the clones. Endometrial tissue was obtained from women undergoing hysterectomy. Purified single- cell suspensions of epithelial and stromal cells were cultured at cloning density (300-500/cm(2)) in serum medium or in serum- free medium supplemented with one of eight growth factors. Small numbers of epithelial (0.22%) and stromal cells (1.25%) initiated colonies in serum-containing medium. The majority of colonies were small, containing large, loosely arranged cells, and 37% of epithelial and 1 in 60 of stromal colonies were classified as large, comprising small, densely packed cells. In serum-free medium, transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF alpha), epidermal growth factor (EGF), platelet-derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB) strongly supported clonogenicity of epithelial cells, while leukemia-inhibitory factor (LIF), hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), stem-cell factor (SCF), insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF- I) were weakly supportive, and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) was without effect. TGF alpha, EGF, PDGF-BB, and bFGF supported stromal cell clonogenicity, while HGF, SCF, LIF, and IGF- I were without effect. Small epithelial colonies expressed three epithelial markers but not stromal markers; however, large epithelial colonies showed little reactivity for all markers except alpha(6)-integrin. All stromal colonies contained fibroblasts, expressing stromal markers, and in some colonies, myofibroblasts were also identified. This analysis of human endometrium has demonstrated the presence of rare clonogenic epithelial and stromal cells with high proliferative potential, providing the first evidence for the existence of putative endometrial epithelial and stromal stem cells.

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