In spite of recent key improvements, in vitro mass production of erythrocytes from human stem cells is still limited by difficulties in obtaining sufficient numbers of erythroid progenitors. In fact, such progenitors are as scarce in the bone marrow as in peripheral blood. We used a two-step culture model of human cord blood-derived erythroid progenitors in the presence or absence of high-purity neuraminidase, in a serum-free, defined culture medium. Granulocytic and megakaryocytic progenitor cell expansions were also studied. We show that significant enhancement of erythroid cell generation is obtained when CD34+ human hematopoietic progenitors are cultured in the presence of neuraminidase. Interestingly, in so doing, expanded red cell progenitors remained erythropoietin-dependent for further expansion and survival, and cells thus generated displayed a normal phenotype. Moreover, the activity of neuraminidase on these cells can be reversed by simple cell washing. Finally, growth of cells of the other myeloid lineages (granulocytes and megakaryocytes) is either decreased or unchanged in the presence of neuraminidase. This specific feature of neuraminidase, that of stimulation of human red cell progenitor proliferation, provides a safe technique for producing greater numbers of in vitro-generated red blood cells for both basic research and transfusion use.
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