We show here that mouse pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells can be maintained in vitro on stroma for at least 3 weeks at levels close to those found in bone marrow. The extent of stem cell maintenance is affected by the nature of the stromal cells. The stromal cell line S17 supported stem cells significantly better than heterogeneous, primary stromal layers or the stromal cell line Strofl-1. Stem cells cultured on S17 repopulated all hematopoietic lineages in marrow-ablated hosts for at least 10 months, indicating that this culture system maintained primitive stem cells with extensive proliferative capacity. Furthermore, we demonstrate that, while pluripotent stem cells express c-kit, this receptor appears to play only a minor role in stem cell maintenance in vitro. The addition of an antibody that blocks the interaction of c-kit with its ligand essentially abrogated myelopoiesis in cultures. However, the level of stem cells in antibody-treated cultures was similar to that found in untreated cultures. Thus, it seems likely that the maintenance of primitive stem cells in vitro depends on yet unidentified stromal cell-derived factor(s).

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