Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and endothelial progenitors arise from a common embryonic precursor. However, these populations diverge prior to the onset of definitive hematopoiesis, as HSCs become CD45+ and are thought to lose the expression of endothelial markers. After the onset of definitive hematopoiesis, CD144 (vascular endothelial [VE]-cadherin) has been considered a specific marker of endothelial cells. In contrast, we found that virtually all HSC activity from embryonic day 13.5 (E13.5) fetal liver was CD144+. CD144 expression declined on E16.5 fetal liver HSCs and was absent from adult bone marrow HSCs. This identified a new marker that is differentially expressed between fetal and adult HSCs, and enhanced the purification of HSCs from the E13.5 fetal liver. These results emphasize the close developmental relationship between hematopoietic and endothelial cells, while indicating that CD144 is not a specific marker of endothelial cells during fetal development.
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