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Development. 2002 Nov;129(21):4891-9.

Quantitative developmental anatomy of definitive haematopoietic stem cells/long-term repopulating units (HSC/RUs): role of the aorta-gonad-mesonephros (AGM) region and the yolk sac in colonisation of the mouse embryonic liver.

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  • 1Institute for Stem Cell Research, University of Edinburgh, West Main's Road, King's Buildings, UK.

Erratum in

  • Development. 2003 Jan;130(2):425..


In the developing mouse embryo the first definitive (transplantable-into-the-adult) haematopoietic stem cells/long-term repopulating units (HSC/RUs) emerge in the AGM region and umbilical vessels on 10-11 days post coitum (d.p.c.). Here, by limiting dilution analysis, we anatomically map the development of definitive HSC/RUs in different embryonic tissues during early colonisation of the liver. We show that by day 12 p.c. the mouse embryo contains about 66 definitive HSC/RUs (53 in the liver, 13 in other tissues), whereas on the previous day the total number of definitive HSC/RUs in the entire conceptus is only about 3. Owing to the length of the cell cycle this dramatic increase in the number of definitive HSC/RUs in only 24 hours is unlikely to be explained purely by cell division. Therefore, extensive maturation of pre-definitive HSCs to a state when they become definitive must take place in the day 11-12 embryo. Here we firstly identify the numbers of HSCs in various organs at 11-13 d.p.c. and secondly, using an organ culture approach, we quantitatively assess the potential of the aorta-gonadmesonephros (AGM) region and the yolk sac to produce/expand definitive HSC/RUs during days 11-12 of embryogenesis. We show that the capacity of the AGM region to generate definitive HSC/RUs is high on 11 d.p.c. but significantly reduced by 12 d.p.c. Conversely, at 12 d.p.c. the YS acquires the capacity to expand and/or generate definitive HSCs/RUs, whereas it is unable to do so on 11 d.p.c. Thus, the final steps in development of definitive HSC/RUs may occur not only within the AGM region, as was previously thought, but also in the yolk sac microenvironment. Our estimates indicate that the cumulative activity of the AGM region and the yolk sac is sufficient to provide the day 12 liver with a large number of definitive HSC/RUs, suggesting that the large pool of definitive HSC/RUs in day 12 foetal liver is formed predominantly by recruiting 'ready-to-use' definitive HSC/RUs from extra-hepatic sources. In accordance with this we observe growing numbers of definitive HSC/RUs in the circulation during days 11-13 of gestation, suggesting a route via which these HSCs migrate.

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