To assess the effects of interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) on very primitive hematopoietic progenitor cells, CD34(2+)CD38- human bone marrow cells were isolated and cultured in a two-stage culture system, consisting of a primary liquid culture phase followed by a secondary semisolid colony assay. CD34(2+)CD38- cells needed at least the presence of interleukin 3 (IL-3) and kit ligand (KL) together with either IL-1, IL-6, or granulocyte-colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) in the primary liquid phase in order to proliferate and differentiate into secondary colony-forming cells (CFC). Addition of IFN-gamma to the primary liquid cultures inhibited cell proliferation and generation of secondary CFC in a dose-dependent way. This was a direct effect since it was also seen in primary single cell cultures of CD34(2+)CD38- cells. The proliferation of more mature CD34+CD38+ cells, however, was not inhibited by IFN-gamma, demonstrating for the first time that IFN-gamma is a specific and direct hematopoietic stem cell inhibitor. IFN-gamma, moreover, preserves the viability of CD34(2+)CD38- cells in the absence of other cytokines. IFN-gamma could, therefore, play a role in the protection of the stem cell compartment from exhaustion in situations of hematopoietic stress and may be useful as stem cell protecting agent against chemotherapy for cancer.

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