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Br J Haematol. 2002 Feb;116(2):409-20.

Very low frequencies of human normal CD34+ haematopoietic progenitor cells express the Wilms' tumour gene WT1 at levels similar to those in leukaemia cells.

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Department of Molecular Medicine, Osaka University Medical School, Osaka, Japan.


The Wilms' tumour gene, WT1, is expressed at high levels in leukaemia cells and plays an important role in leukaemogenesis. WT1 is also expressed in human normal CD34+ bone marrow (BM) cells at about 100 times lower levels than in leukaemia cells. To identify and characterize WT1-expressing cells in CD34+ BM cells, they were sorted into single cells and analysed for WT1 expression using two kinds of single-cell reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) methods. Using the semiquantitative single-cell polyA-PCR + sequence-specific (SS)-PCR method, WT1 expression was detected in four (1.3%) out of 319 CD34+ BM single cells. To confirm the above results, a single-cell nested sequence-specific (NSS)-RT-PCR method that was less quantitative but more sensitive than the polyA-PCR + SS-PCR method was also performed, and WT1 expression was detected in 15 (1.1%) out of 1315 CD34+ BM single cells. In total, WT1 expression was found in 19 (1.2%) out of 1634 CD34+ BM single cells. No significant differences in the frequencies of WT1-expressing cells were found between CD34+CD38- and CD34+CD38+ BM single cells. Furthermore, WT1-expressing CD34+ BM single cells expressed WT1 at levels similar to those in K562 leukaemia single cells. Analysis of lineage-specific and cell cycle gene expression in WT1-expressing CD34+ BM single cells showed that the WT1 gene could be expressed in both uncommitted, dormant CD34+CD38- and lineage-committed, proliferating CD34+CD38+ BM cells. Our results could indicate that these WT1-expressing CD34+ BM cells were normal counterparts of leukaemia cells.

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