Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from five patients with essential thrombocythemia (ET) were cultured in vitro to evaluate restricted megakaryocytic (CFU-Meg), myeloid (CFU-GM), and erythroid (BFU-E) progenitor cell development. Varying concentrations of aplastic canine serum served as the source of megakaryocyte colony-stimulating activity, and cultured megakaryocyte ploidy distributions were determined by Feulgen staining and microfluorometry. Megakaryocyte colony growth was strikingly abnormal in all five patients evaluated. Four of the 5 had a marked expansion in the concentration of circulating CFU-Meg and 3 of 4 manifested abnormalities in cultured megakaryocyte colony size (2 unusually large and 1 small). Unstimulated megakaryocyte colony growth was substantially increased in three patients. However, the fraction of megakaryocyte progenitors in cell cycle was near or below normal in all instances. Endomitotic megakaryocyte development was disordered in each of the four ET patients in whom it was evaluable. In normal subjects, mean megakaryocyte ploidy values vary biphasically with aplastic canine serum concentration and peak at 13.2 N following 12 to 15 days of culture. In contrast, day 12 mean ploidy values in cultures from the ET patients remained low at all aplastic canine serum concentrations and reached a maximum averaging only 8.4 N. Three patients were evaluated serially at extended culture durations of up to 21 days. The cultured megakaryocyte ploidy was unchanged during this interval for two of the patients. For the third patient, ploidy increased steadily, reaching abnormally high ploidy values by day 21. Progenitor cell expansion was limited to the megakaryocyte line in three patients. However, two patients had substantial increases in CFU-GM, one of whom also had a marked increase in BFU-E. There was no significant unstimulated colony growth by either CFU-GM or BFU-E. These data indicate that ET is usually characterized by an expansion in the concentration of circulating CFU-Meg in vivo which manifest both disordered replication and endoreduplication in vitro.
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