Commitment to B-lymphocyte differentiation is characterized by expression of the B220 form of the common leukocyte antigen (Ly-5) and D-JH rearrangement of the Ig heavy chain gene complex. B-lineage progenitor cells, or pro-B cells, that have initiated Ig gene rearrangement, but do not express detectable Ig heavy or light chain protein, have recently been shown to retain substantial capacity for expansion in vitro in the presence of bone marrow (BM) stromal cells and interleukin-7 (IL-7). Although the potentiating effect of stromal cells on pro-B-cell proliferation can be partially attributed to the ligand for the proto-oncogene receptor c-kit (c-kit ligand [KL] or stem cell factor), several lines of evidence suggest that c-kit-mediated cell signalling is not required for pro-B-cell expansion. Previous studies from this laboratory demonstrated that insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) potentiated the proliferative effect of IL-7 on nonadherent cells from lymphoid long-term BM cultures in a manner similar to that shown for KL. To further delineate specific cell stages that respond to lymphopoietic cytokines, we derived continuously proliferating pro-B-cell lines from day-14 murine fetal liver in the presence of IL-7 and BM stromal cell clone S10. Initial expansion and continued proliferation of these pro-B-cell lines was absolutely dependent on the presence of both IL-7 and stromal cells. In the absence of KL, IL-7-stimulated proliferation of these cells in short- term cultures and addition of either recombinant IGF-1 or KL significantly potentiated this proliferative response. Although IGF-2 and insulin also potentiated the effect of IL-7, our data suggest that neither IGF-2 nor insulin represent normal regulators of intramyeloid lymphocyte development. IGF-1 and KL activate unique cascades of intracellular signalling events and inclusion of both cytokines in cultures of IL-7-stimulated pro-B cells resulted in additive potentiation of the proliferative response. Taken together, these results suggest that expansion of pro-B cells in vivo is maintained by at least three stromal cell-derived cytokines. IL-7 appears to be unique in delivering the primary proliferative signal for pro-B-cell expansion; however, both KL and IGF-1 potentiate the proliferative effect of IL-7 on these cells. The functional redundancy and additive effects of IGF-1 and KL as amplification signals for developing B- lineage cells underscore the essential nature of clonal expansion and diversification in development of immunocompetent lymphoid cells.

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