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J Immunol. 2003 Sep 15;171(6):2977-88.

Identification of a novel subpopulation of human cord blood CD34-CD133-CD7-CD45+lineage- cells capable of lymphoid/NK cell differentiation after in vitro exposure to IL-15.

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Department of Hematology, Laboratory of Immunology, Catholic University Medical School, Rome, Italy.


The hemopoietic stem cell (HSC) compartment encompasses cell subsets with heterogeneous proliferative and developmental potential. Numerous CD34(-) cell subsets that might reside at an earlier stage of differentiation than CD34(+) HSCs have been described and characterized within human umbilical cord blood (UCB). We identified a novel subpopulation of CD34(-)CD133(-)CD7(-)CD45(dim)lineage (lin)(-) HSCs contained within human UCB that were endowed with low but measurable extended long-term culture-initiating cell activity. Exposure of CD34(-)CD133(-)CD7(-)CD45(dim)lin(-) HSCs to stem cell factor preserved cell viability and was associated with the following: 1) concordant expression of the stem cell-associated Ags CD34 and CD133, 2) generation of CFU-granulocyte-macrophage, burst-forming unit erythroid, and megakaryocytic aggregates, 3) significant extended long-term culture-initiating cell activity, and 4) up-regulation of mRNA signals for myeloperoxidase. At variance with CD34(+)lin(-) cells, CD34(-)CD133(-)CD7(-)CD45(dim)lin(-) HSCs maintained with IL-15, but not with IL-2 or IL-7, proliferated vigorously and differentiated into a homogeneous population of CD7(+)CD45(bright)CD25(+)CD44(+) lymphoid progenitors with high expression of the T cell-associated transcription factor GATA-3. Although they harbored nonclonally rearranged TCRgamma genes, IL-15-primed CD34(-)CD133(-)CD7(-)CD45(dim)lin(-) HSCs failed to achieve full maturation, as manifested in their CD3(-)TCRalphabeta(-)gammadelta(-) phenotype. Conversely, culture on stromal cells supplemented with IL-15 was associated with the acquisition of phenotypic and functional features of NK cells. Collectively, CD34(-)CD133(-)CD7(-)CD45(dim)lin(-) HSCs from human UCB displayed an exquisite sensitivity to IL-15 and differentiated into lymphoid/NK cells. Whether the transplantation of CD34(-)lin(-) HSCs possessing T/NK cell differentiation potential may impact on immunological reconstitution and control of minimal residual disease after HSC transplantation for autoimmune or malignant diseases remains to be determined.

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