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Haematologica. 2012 Mar;97(3):331-9. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2011.050815. Epub 2011 Nov 4.

Oxygen tension plays a critical role in the hematopoietic microenvironment in vitro.

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Medical Clinic and Polyclinic I, University Hospital Dresden, 01307 Dresden, Germany.



In the bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells and osteoblasts form functional niches for hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. This microenvironment can be partially mimicked using in vitro co-culture systems. In this study, we examined the oxygen tension in three distinct compartments in a co-culture system of purified CD34(+) cells and mesenchymal stromal cells with regard to different spatial localizations.


Hypoxic cells in the co-culture were visualized by pimonidazole staining. Hematopoietic cell distribution, and functional and phenotypic characteristics were analyzed by flow cytometry. The secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor and stromal-derived factor-1 by mesenchymal stromal cells in low oxygen co-cultures was determined by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The effect of co-culture medium on the hematopoietic cell migration potential was tested in a transwell assay.


In co-cultures under atmospheric oxygen tension, regions of low oxygen tension could be detected beneath the feeder layer in which a reservoir of phenotypically more primitive hematopoietic cells is located in vitro. In low oxygen co-culture, the adhesion of hematopoietic cells to the feeder layer was decreased, whereas hematopoietic cell transmigration beneath mesenchymal stromal cells was favored. Increased vascular endothelial growth factor-A secretion by mesenchymal stromal cells under low oxygen conditions, which increased the permeability of the monolayer, was responsible for this effect. Furthermore, vascular endothelial growth factor-A expression in low oxygen mesenchymal stromal cells was induced via hypoxia-inducible factor signaling. However, stromal cell-derived factor-1 secretion by mesenchymal stromal cells was down-regulated under low oxygen conditions in a hypoxia-inducible factor-independent manner.


We demonstrate for the first time that differences in oxygen tension cause selective modification of hematopoietic cell and mesenchymal stromal cell interactions in a co-culture system, thus confirming that oxygen tension plays a critical role in the interaction between hematopoietic cells and the niche environment.

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