Ex vivo expansion of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) is important for many clinical applications, and knowledge of the surface phenotype of ex vivo-expanded HSCs will be critical to their purification and analysis. Here, we developed a simple culture system for bone marrow (BM) HSCs using low levels of stem cell factor (SCF), thrombopoietin (TPO), insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF-2), and fibroblast growth factor-1 (FGF-1) in serum-free medium. As measured by competitive repopulation analyses, there was a more than 20-fold increase in numbers of long-term (LT)-HSCs after a 10-day culture of total BM cells. Culture of BM "side population" (SP) cells, a highly enriched stem cell population, for 10 days resulted in an approximate 8-fold expansion of repopulating HSCs. Similar to freshly isolated HSCs, repopulating HSCs after culture were positive for the stem cell markers Sca-1, Kit, and CD31 and receptors for IGF-2. Surprisingly, prion protein and Tie-2, which are present on freshly isolated HSCs, were not on cultured HSCs. Two other HSC markers, Endoglin and Mpl, were expressed only on a portion of cultured HSCs. Therefore, the surface phenotype of ex vivo-expanded HSCs is different from that of freshly isolated HSCs, but this plasticity of surface phenotype does not significantly alter their repopulation capability.
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