We have evaluated the expression of growth factor receptors (GFRs) on early hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) purified from human adult peripheral blood and induced in liquid suspension culture to unilineage differentiation/maturation through the erythroid (E), granulocytic (G), megakaryocytic (Mk), or monocytic (Mo) lineage. The receptors for basic fibroblast GF (bFGF), erythropoietin (Epo), thrombopoietin (Tpo), and macrophage colony-stimulating factor (MCSF) have been only assayed at mRNA level; the majority of GFRs have been evaluated by both mRNA and protein analyses: the expression patterns were consistent at both levels. In quiescent HPCs the receptors for early-acting [flt3 ligand (FL), c-kit ligand (KL), bFGF, interleukin-6 (IL-6)] and multilineage [IL-3, granulocyte-macrophage CSF (GM-CSF)] HGFs are expressed at significant levels but with different patterns, eg, kit and flt3 are detected on a majority and minority of HPCs, respectively, whereas IL-3Rs and GM-CSFRs are present on almost all HPCs. In the four differentiation pathways, expression of early-acting receptors shows a progressive decrease, more rapidly for bFGFR-1 and flt3 than for c-kit; furthermore, c-kit is more slowly downmodulated in the E and Mk than the G and Mo lineages. As a partial exception, IL-6Rs are still detected through the early or late stages of maturation in the Mk and Mo lineages, respectively. IL-3R expression is progressively and rapidly downmodulated in both E and Mk pathways, whereas it moderately decreases in the Mo lineage and is sustained in the G series. The expression of GM-CSFR is gradually downmodulated in all differentiation pathways, ie, the receptor density markedly decreases but late erythroblasts are still partially GM-CSFR+ and terminal G, Mk and Mo cells are essentially GM-CSFR+. Expression of receptors for late-acting cytokines is lineage-specific. Thus, EpoR, G-CSFR, TpoR, and M-CSFR exhibit a gradual induction followed by a sustained expression in the E, G, MK, and Mo lineages, respectively. In the other differentiation pathways the expression of these receptors is either absent or initially low and there-after suppressed. These observations are compatible with the following multi-step model. (1) The early-acting GFRs are expressed on quiescent HPCs with different patterns, whereas the multilineage GFRs are present on > or = 90% to 95% HPCs. (2) Multilineage GFs, potentiated by early-acting HGFs, trigger HPCs into cycling. HPC proliferation/differentiation is followed by declining expression of the early-acting GFRs and in part of multilineage GFRs (see above). (3) Multilineage GFs trigger the expression of the unilineage GFRs (see Testa U, et al: Blood 81:1442, 1993). Interaction of each unilineage GF with its receptor leads to sustained expression of the receptor (possibly via transcription factors activating the receptor promoter) and thus mediates differentiation/maturation through the pertinent lineage.

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