Hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells have been demonstrated to reside in association with bone marrow sinusoidal endothelial cells in vivo but the mechanisms through which the BM vascular niche regulates hematopoiesis remains incompletely defined. In an attempt to identify candidate soluble growth factors for hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) which are produced by endothelial cells (Ecs), we have performed comparative genome-wide expression analysis of a primary human brain-derived Ecs which we have previously demonstrated to support a 10-fold expansion of human SCID-repopulating cells (SRCs) in non-contact cultures. This analysis revealed that pleiotrophin (PTN), a heparin binding growth factor, was 32-fold overexpressed in HUBECs that supported human HSC expansion as compared to non-supportive EC lines. Pleiotrophin has anti-apoptotic, mitogenic and transforming activities, suggesting a role in tumorigenesis. No role for pleiotrophin in hematopoiesis has been described. In order to determine if PTN contributes to the demonstrated HSC-supportive activity of HUBECs, the activity of PTN was blocked by adminstration of a neutralizing anti-PTN mAb to the coculture model. Three doses of PTN neutralizing antibody (5, 25, and 50 ug/ml) were added to non-contact cocultures of HUBECs with human cord blood CD34+CD38-lin- HSCs. The anti-PTN treatment caused a decrease in the numbers of phenotypic HSCs in culture in a dose dependent manner. Relative to control HUBEC cultures, the % and expansion of CD34(+) progenitors decreased signficantly at the two higher doses of anti-PTN (p<0.05, respectively). Additionally, CD34(+)CD38(−) lin(−) progenitors were decreased by 33% at the highest dose of anti-PTN compared to control HUBEC cultures (p<0.05). Transplantation studies of anti-PTN treated versus control HUBEC-cultured progeny into NOD/SCID mice are ongoing to confirm the central role of PTN in the expansion of human HSCs in culture. In a correlative study, the addition of recombinant PTN to cultures of human HSCs with thrombopoietin, SCF and flt-3 ligand was shown to significantly increase CD34+ cell content and CD34+CD38- cell content compared to cytokines alone, again in a dose-dependent manner. Taken together these results suggest that PTN, a growth factor with no previously ascribed hematopoietic activity, is a soluble growth factor for human hematopoietic progenitor cells. Since blockade of PTN activity significantly inhibits the soluble activity of HUBECs to support human HSC proliferation and expansion, PTN is also a candidate growth factor for further study in the context of understanding the function of the BM vascular niche.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.