• erythroid progenitors;
  • CD36;
  • ex vivo expansion ;
  • cell purification;
  • erythropoiesis

In humans, studies of the erythroid cell lineage are hampered by difficulties in obtaining sufficient numbers of erythroid progenitors. In fact, these progenitors in bone marrow or peripheral blood are scarce and no specific antibodies are available. We describe a new method which allows proliferation in liquid culture of large numbers of pure normal human erythroid progenitors. CD34+ cells were cultured for 7 d in serum-free conditions with the cytokine mixture interleukin (IL)-3/IL-6/stem cell factor (SCF). This resulted in cell expansion and the appearance of a high proportion of CD36+ cells which were purified on day 7. Methylcellulose clones from these cells were composed of 96.6% late BFU-E and 3.4% CFU-GM. These CD36+ cells could be recultured with the same cytokine mixture plus or minus erythropoietin (Epo) for a further 2–7 d. In both conditions further amplification of CD36+ cells was observed, but Epo induced a more dramatic cell expansion. Glycophorin-positive mature cells appeared only in the presence of Epo, and terminal red cell differentiation was observed after 7 d of secondary culture. Cells obtained from adult CD34+ progenitors mostly contained adult haemoglobin, whereas cord blood-derived cells contained equal proportions of adult and fetal haemoglobin. Activation of STAT5 and tyrosine phosphorylation of the Epo receptor and JAK2 were observed after Epo stimulation of these cells. This new method represents a straightforward alternative to the procedures previously described for the purification of normal erythroid progenitors and is useful in the study of erythropoietic regulation.