Comprehensive phenotyping of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells in the human fetal liver

Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) reside at the top of the hematopoietic hierarchy and can give rise to all the mature blood cell types in our body, while at the same time maintaining a pool of HSCs through self-renewing divisions. This potential is reflected in their functional definition as cells that are capable of long-term multi-lineage engraftment upon transplantation. While all HSCs meet these criteria, subtle differences exist between developmentally different populations of these cells. Here we present a comprehensive overview of traditional and more recently described markers for phenotyping HSCs and their downstream progeny. To address the need to assess the growing number of surface molecules expressed in various HSC-enriched fractions at different developmental stages, we have developed an extensive multi-parameter spectral flow cytometry panel to phenotype hematopoietic stem and multipotent progenitor cells (HSC/MPPs) throughout development. In this study we then employ this panel to comprehensively profile the HSC compartment in the human fetal liver (FL), which is endowed with superior engraftment potential compared to postnatal sources. Spectral cytometry lends an improved resolution of marker expression to our comprehensive approach, allowing to extract combinatorial expression signatures of several relevant HSC/MPP markers to precisely characterize the HSC/MPP fraction in a variety of tissues.

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