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Limited Telomere Shortening in Hematopoietic Stem Cells after Transplantation


Address for correspondence: Peter Lansdorp, M.D., Ph.D., Terry Fox Laboratory, BC Cancer Agency, 601 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C., V5Z 1L3 Canada. Voice: 604-877-6070; fax: 604-877-0712;


Abstract: The number of cell divisions in hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) following transplantation of bone marrow or mobilized peripheral blood into myelo-ablated recipients is unknown. This number is expected to depend primarily on the number of transplanted stem cells, assuming that stem cells do not differ in engraftment potential and other functional properties. In a previous study, we found that the telomere length in circulating granulocytes in normal individuals shows a biphasic decline with age, most likely reflecting age-related changes in the turnover of HSCs. In order to study HSCs' proliferation kinetics following stem cells transplantation, we analyzed the telomere length in donor-derived nucleated blood cells in four HLA-matched bone marrow transplant recipients relative to comparable cells from the sibling donors. In each case, the telomeres in granulocytes were shorter in the recipient than in the donor. This difference was established in the first year post transplantation and did not change after that. The telomere length in naïve and memory T cells showed marked differences after transplantation, complicating the interpretation of telomere length data using unseparated nucleated blood cells. Interestingly, the telomere length in naïve T cells that were first observed six months post transplantation was very similar in donor and recipient pairs. Our observations are compatible with a limited number of additional cell divisions in stem cell populations after bone marrow transplantations and support the idea that different populations of stem cells contribute to short-term myeloid and long-term lympho-myeloid hematopoiesis.