Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in the bone marrow (BM) reside in specialized microenvironments known as the stem cell niche. Many reports have found the HSCs to be resident next to the endosteal surface of bone where cells of the osteoblastic lineage are a key component of the so-called endosteal niche. However, HSCs have also been found to reside adjacent to sinusoidal blood vessels. These observations have led to the proposal that HSCs in the adult BM may also reside in a vascular niche. However, the functional role of the vascular niche in hematopoiesis remains to be determined. We wished to evaluate the role that BM endothelial cells (BMECs) play in HSC physiology. To examine this we cultured BMEC-enriched cells in vitro, identified by expression of CD31, Tie-2, VE-cadherin and LDL uptake. We compared these cells to spleen derived ECs and BM stromal cells (BMSCs) in their ability to support primitive hematopoietic cells for extended periods in in vitro culture. We found that BMECs were superior in their ability to support the cobblestone area forming cell activity of VEGF-R1+ HSCs than spleen ECs or BMSCs. We also found that the number of cobblestone area cells was markedly reduced when VEGF-R1 HSCs were cultured on any of the supportive cell layers, however this may be due to an intrinsic difference between these cells as a much higher proportion of VEGF-R1+ HSCs were found to be in the G0 phase of the cell cycle than VEGF-R1 cells. To evaluate the supportive role of BMECs, spleen ECs or BMSCs on hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) we cultured purified primitive cells on these supportive layers and the total number of colony-forming unit-culture (CFU-C) cells were examined after 4-days or 7-days co-culture with the feeder cells. The results showed that BMECs or spleen ECs can promote the generation of CFU-C from VEGFR1+ HSCs or VEGFR1 HSCs, yet the tot al number of CFU-C produced from VEGFR1+ HSCs was greater than that from VEGFR1- HSCs. However, both of these cell types were able to support the generation of CFU-Cs to a greater degree than BMSCs. To examine the mechanism of enhanced support of VEGF-R1+ HSCs by the BMECs, we performed real-time PCR analysis for the expression of the VEGF-R1 ligands. Both BMECs and spleen ECs were found to express VEGF-A and –B to similar levels, however the expression of placental growth factor was higher in the BMECs. Whether the increased expression of this factor plays a functional role in the support of the HSCs in currently being evaluated. Our findings suggest that the ECs from BM or spleen can promote the proliferation of hematopoietic progenitor cells, while BMECs can maintain the long-term culture of VEGFR1+ HSCs in vitro. The functional relevance of this in vivo is currently being investigated.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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