Transient abnormal myelopoiesis (TAM) in neonates with Down syndrome, which spontaneously resolves within several weeks or months after birth, may represent a special form of leukemia developing in the fetal liver (FL). To explore the role of hepatoblasts, one of the major constituents of the FL hematopoietic microenvironment, in the pathogenesis of TAM, we investigated the influence of a human hepatoblastoma cell line, HUH-6, on the in vitro growth and differentiation of TAM blasts. In a coculture system with membrane filters, which hinders cell-to-cell contact between TAM blasts and HUH-6 cells, the growth and megakaryocytic differentiation of TAM blast progenitors were increased in the presence of HUH-6 cells. The culture supernatant of HUH-6 cells contained hematopoietic growth factors, including stem cell factor (SCF) and thrombopoietin (TPO). The neutralizing antibody against SCF abrogated the growth-stimulating activity of the culture supernatant of HUH-6 cells, demonstrating that, among the growth factors produced by HUH-6 cells, SCF may be the major growth stimulator and that TPO may be involved in megakaryocytic differentiation, rather than growth, of TAM blasts. This suggests that hepatoblasts function in the regulation of the growth and differentiation of TAM blasts in the FL through the production of hematopoietic growth factors, including SCF and TPO, and are involved in the leukemogenesis of TAM.
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