Long-term bone marrow culture (LTBMC) was used to investigate the proliferative behaviour of marrow cells from a spectrum of cases of the myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), and the results compared with those obtained in the conventional short-term clonal assay. Two broad patterns of growth were revealed in LTBMC. In one group the incidence of haemopoietic progenitor cells steadily declined to abnormally low levels at 4 weeks, while in a second group they were maintained near normal levels for periods of up to 7 weeks. These growth patterns, which were not predictable from clonogenic assays on the marrow cells prior to LTBMC, or from the morphology of the bone marrow, may reflect the stage of evolution of the disease. Further studies of clonality are required to establish whether or not patients exhibiting the second pattern have a potentiality to harbour residual normal haemopoiesis.
LTBMC was also used to study the function of MDS marrow stroma in terms of its ability to sustain the growth of normal haemopoietic progenitor cells. Although the phenotype of the cultured adherent cell layer, obtained from some patients, was atypical, no consistent functional defect of MDS stroma could be identified by studying the level of haemopoiesis reached by normal cells seeded into MDS stroma.