In situ studies with the mouse macrophage (M phi)-specific antibody, F4/80, have shown that resident M phi in femoral bone marrow (RBMM) form hematopoietic islands with immature myelomonocytic and erythroid cells (Hume, D. A., et al. 1983. J. Exp. Med. 158: 1522). We have isolated these islands (clusters) by collagenase digestion, purified them from single cells by velocity sedimentation, and analyzed their cellular content. The clusters, ranging from 5- to 100 cells, constituted approximately 7% of the total nucleated cells, and greater than 70% contained at least one strongly staining, F4/80+ central M phi. In comparison, less than 26% showed reactivity for alkaline phosphatase, a marker of fibroblastoid reticulum cells. Compared with the nonclustering population, clusters were enriched with RBMM, fibroblastoid cells, and immature hematopoietic cells, but depleted of mature granulocytes and erythrocytes. The RBMM population was purified from other cells in clusters by selective adherence to glass and was compared with resident peritoneal M phi (RPM) for morphology and the presence of antigens, receptors, and enzymes. RBMM spread more extensively than RPM and frequently extended delicate plasma membrane processes. These and subsequent differences were not attributable to the collagenase treatment. Both M phi populations stained positively with antibodies F4/80 and 2.4G2 (Fc receptor IgG1/2b), bore mannosyl/fucosyl receptors, and showed reactivity for acid phosphatase and nonspecific esterase I. In contrast to RPM, RBMM had no detectable Mac-1 antigen (CR3) or complement receptors, but bore higher levels of Fc receptors (IgG2a and IgG2b) and Ia antigens. In addition, RBMM possessed a novel hemagglutinin activity for unopsonized sheep erythrocytes, which was not present on RPM. RBMM showed no respiratory burst activity in response to zymosan particles, but ingested them avidly. The growth properties of clustering and nonclustered populations were compared by measurement of [3H]thymidine incorporation and progenitor assays. Cells in clusters incorporated three- to fourfold more thymidine than nonclustered cells even in the absence of exogenous growth factors, and autoradiography demonstrated that RBMM made contact with proliferating cells. In contrast, the clusters contained over threefold fewer granulocyte/M phi progenitors compared with nonclustering cells. When clusters were cultivated for up to 3 d, there was rapid outgrowth of monocytes and fibroblastoid cells. These studies demonstrate that RBMM bear a distinct morphology and phenotype.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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