The effect of FLT3/FLK2 ligand (FL) on the growth of primitive hematopoietic cells was investigated using ThyloSca1+ stem cells. FL was observed to interact with a variety of factors to initiate colony formation by stem cells. When stem cells were stimulated in liquid culture with FL plus interleukin (IL)-3, IL-6, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), or stem cell factor (SCF), cells capable of forming colonies in secondary methylcellulose cultures (CFU-c) were produced in high numbers. However, only FL plus IL-6 supported an increase in the number of cells capable of forming colonies in the spleens of irradiated mice (CFU-s). Experiments with accessory cell-depleted bone marrow (Lin-BM) showed that FL alone lacks significant colony-stimulating activity for progenitor cells. Nevertheless, FL enhanced the growth of granulocyte-macrophage progenitors (CFU-GM) in cultures containing SCF, G-CSF, IL-6, or IL-11. In these assays, FL increased the number of CFU-GM initiating colony formation (recruitment), as well as the number of cells per colony (synergy). Many of the colonies were macroscopic and contained greater than 2 x 10(4) granulocytes and macrophages. Therefore, FL appears to function as a potent costimulus for primitive cells of high proliferative potential (HPP). FL was also observed to costimulate the expansion of CFU-GM in liquid cultures of Lin-BM. In contrast, FL had no growth-promoting affects on progenitors committed to the erythrocyte, megakaryocyte, eosinophil, or mast cell lineages.

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