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Leukemia. 2008 May;22(5):941-50. doi: 10.1038/leu.2008.48. Epub 2008 Feb 28.

The bone marrow niche: habitat to hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells, and unwitting host to molecular parasites.

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Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1078, USA.


In post-fetal life, hematopoiesis occurs in unique microenvironments or 'niches' in the marrow. Niches facilitate the maintenance of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) as unipotent, while supporting lineage commitment of the expanding blood populations. As the physical locale that regulates HSC function, the niche function is vitally important to the survival of the organism. This places considerable selective pressure on HSCs, as only those that are able to engage the niche in the appropriate context are likely to be maintained as stem cells. Since niches are central regulators of stem cell function, it is not surprising that molecular parasites like neoplasms are likely to seek out opportunities to harvest resources from the niche environment. As such, the niche may unwittingly participate in tumorigenesis as a leukemic or neoplastic niche. The niche may also promote metastasis or chemo-resistance of hematogenous neoplasms or solid tumors. This review focuses on what is known about the physical structures of the niche, how the niche participates in hematopoiesis and neoplastic growth and what molecules are involved. Further understanding of the interactions between stem cells and the niche may be useful for developing therapeutic strategies.

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