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Blood. 1998 Sep 15;92(6):2041-52.

Apoptotic regulation in primitive hematopoietic precursors.

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  • 1Centre Pluridisciplinaire d'Oncologie, University Hospital (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland.


Bcl-2 and bcl-xL function as suppressors of programmed cell death. The expression of bcl-2 protein in vivo is associated with long-lived hematopoietic cells such as mature lymphocytes and early myeloid progenitors. Bcl-xL, a homologue of bcl-2, is also expressed in lymphocytes and thymocytes. In contrast, the bcl-2-related proteins (bax, bad, and bak) act by promoting apoptotic cell death as shown from their expression in hematopoietic cell lines. We analyzed the expression of bcl-2 and bcl-x proteins in hematopoietic precursors obtained from various cell sources in adult mobilized peripheral blood collected from 13 patients with solid tumors, 8 adult bone marrow, and 12 umbilical cord blood. The analysis was based on the expression of the proliferation and activation specific antigens, CD38 and class II (HLA-DR). Similarly, we analyzed the expression of bcl-2-related proteins bcl-xL, bax, bad, and bak before and during ex-vivo expansion. Hematopoietic precursors expressing strongly the CD34 antigen (CD34(s+)) and lacking CD38 or HLA-DR expression were analyzed by using three-color immunofluorescence staining. The majority of CD34(+) cells expressed bcl-2 and unexpectedly showed a bimodal distribution of low and high expression. More cells that lacked or expressed low density CD38 expressed low bcl-2 than the more differentiated counterparts (those with high density CD38). Immaturity (ie, little or no HLA-DR) is associated with the expression of low bcl-2 compared with HLA-DR+. However, HLA-DR-/low population contained a lower number of cells expressing low bcl-2 (30% to 40%) than CD38(-/low) in comparable samples. The hematopoietic precursors with bcl-2(low) and bcl-2(high) formed a homogeneous population of undifferentiated lymphoid-like cells having a similar forward scatter. These cells expressed strongly the bcl-xL protein (>95%) but were bax low (4% to 12%), bad low (0% to 0.8%), and bak low (0% to 3%). The expression of apoptosis specific protein (ASP) was also low (3.4% +/- 3.1%) as was Annexin V. In addition, the CD34(+)/CD38(-) showed low cell cycle activity (<2.2%). Induction of apoptosis by overnight incubation of CD34 cells in serum-deprived medium resulted in the upregulation of bcl-2 as a single population histogram. Thus, these results suggest that in quiescent hematopoietic precursors, the bcl-2 protein plays a less prominent role as a survival promoter than bcl-xL and that the low bcl-2 expression did not promote apoptosis. During day 10 of ex vivo expansion of CD34(+) cells in liquid culture containing stem cell factor, interleukin-3 (IL-3), IL-6, IL-1beta, and erythropoietin, the CD34(+)/CD38(-) cells expressed high bcl-2 as a single population histogram, and greater than 90% were bcl-xL high. However, the expression of pro- and apoptotic antigens increased: bax (10% to 15%), bad (5% to 8%), bak (6% to 14%), and ASP (6% to 10%). These results show the importance of monitoring the expression of these proteins when defining the culture conditions for ex vivo expansion.

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