The proliferative effects of recombinant human interleukin-3 (IL-3) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) were investigated in semi-solid and liquid cultures of purified CD34+ hematopoietic cells obtained from umbilical cord blood. No important differences in overall cloning efficiencies in response to IL-3 or GM- CSF were observed in semi-solid medium in the presence of erythropoietin (Ep). However, GM-CSF was less effective for the development of erythroid bursts (BFU-E), and only IL-3 was observed to induce significant numbers of mixed-erythroid colonies (E-MIX). Both IL- 3 and GM-CSF also induced proliferation of CD34+ in liquid cultures. Proliferative responses to IL-3 were found to be more rapid and stronger than to GM-CSF, although the number of initial responsive cells as judged by autoradiography were comparable. Enhanced proliferation of CD34+ cells both in semi-solid and liquid cultures was obtained in the presence of combinations of IL-3 and GM-CSF. The responses observed were less than additive, with the exception of the development of eosinophil colonies and clusters, where IL-3 and GM-CSF were found to act synergistically. In secondary cultures, proliferative responses to GM-CSF were strongly enhanced by preculture of CD34+ cells in IL-3 for four to 11 days, and to a lesser extent by preculture in GM- CSF. Finally, responses to IL-3 were not affected by preculture of CD34+ cells in the presence of GM-CSF. Our results indicate that there is a wide overlap of cells capable of proliferating either in response to IL-3 or to GM-CSF within the cord blood CD34+ compartment. However, differences in primary proliferation kinetics and increased responsiveness to GM-CSF following preculture suggest the importance of a sequential action of IL-3 and GM-CSF in the expansion of CD34+ cells.

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