Abstract A high number of stem cells migrate in fetal blood and, at birth, the number of progenitors in cord blood equals or exceeds that of adult bone marrow. Recently hemopoiesis has been successfully reconstituted with the infusion of cord blood cells. It is important to clearly define the quantity and quality of cord blood totipotent and multilineage progenitors to evaluate the possibility of their utilization in transplants. Our first aim was to study the growth characteristics of cord blood progenitors. We have evaluated the number of cycling cells with the thymidine suicide technique and the production, by phytohemagglutinin (PHA) stimulated cord blood mononuclear cells, of some cytokines involved in the proliferation of progenitor cells, such as granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF), interleukin 6 (IL-6) and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). We have also studied by flow cytometry the CD34+CD33-, CD34+CD33+ cell subsets and the presence of the c-kit receptor in order to quantitate the number of earlier progenitors. Our second aim was to elucidate whether the cord blood totipotent stem cell population or the committed progenitors could be expanded in vitro. Our results showed that in cord blood the number of early progenitors, as evaluated by the number of mixed lineage colony forming units (CFU-Mix), by the CD34+CD33- subsets and the expression of the c-kit, is higher than in bone marrow. We have also demonstrated the possibility in vitro of increasing the number of progenitors by more than 30-fold by utilizing stem cell factor (SCF) in association with other cytokines
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