A novel cover slip-transfer culture system was designed to study the functional roles of stromal cells in hemopoiesis, particularly erythropoiesis. Human bone marrow stromal cell colonies were allowed to develop on small glass cover slips in liquid medium. The cover slips, along with the stromal cell colonies and progenitors attached to them were then transferred to a new tissue culture dish and overlaid with methylcellulose culture medium. No exogenous colony-stimulating factors except erythropoietin were supplied. Large erythroid bursts, comprising multiple subcolonies, developed on the stromal cells. In order to determine if stromal fibroblasts together with erythropoietin and serum proteins could support erythroid development, human bone marrow cells depleted of monocytes, macrophages, and T lymphocytes were allowed to adhere to monolayers of a homogeneous fibroblastoid human stromal cell strain ST-1 grown on cover slips. The cover slips were then washed to remove nonadherent cells, transferred to a new culture dish, and overlaid with methylcellulose culture medium containing fetal calf serum and erythropoietin. In this modified system as well, primitive erythroid progenitors migrated extensively on and within the stroma to form huge colonies of hemoglobinized erythroblasts that proceeded to enucleate. Our results indicate that (1) ST-1 cells together with serum proteins and erythropoietin can support the development of large erythroid bursts; (2) erythroid progenitors and precursors adhere to and migrate on and within the extracellular matrix elaborated by ST-1 cells; (3) erythroid progenitors are more adherent to the ST-1 cells or the extracellular matrix than are the more mature cells and possibly the myeloid progenitors.

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