• fetal;
  • migration;
  • endothelium;
  • adhesion

Summary. Fetal haemopoietic cells continually circulate and migrate into tissues, and thus may have specialized homing capabilities. In this study we investigated the in vitro features of haemopoietic cells in fetal blood and liver which are relevant to homing and engraftment. Fetal cells were examined for long-term culture-initiating cell (LTC-IC) and progenitor content, adhesion molecule expression, cell cycle behaviour and transendothelial migratory activity. The LTC-IC content of fetal CD34+ cells is similar to that of CD34+ cells from cord and adult mobilized blood. In contrast to adult and cord blood CD34+ cells, fetal CD34+ cells were actively cycling (11·0 ± 1·7% and 28 ± 1·1% of fetal blood and liver CD34+ cells, respectively, in S+G2M, P < 0·001, compared with cord and adult cells). The striking finding was that fetal haemopoietic cells (both LTC-ICs and committed progenitors) displayed significantly higher levels of migration across endothelium (P < 0·05 compared with cord, P < 0·01 compared with adult blood and bone marrow CD34+ cells), which were further increased by chemokines and growth factors. The superior migratory activity of fetal haemopoietic cells may underlie a more efficient homing ability, in keeping with their physiological role.