Precursor cells that migrate into the thymus are still multipotent. Therefore, thymic epithelial cells (TECs) may provide microenvironments not only for T-cell development, but also for maintenance of multipotent precursor cells until they undergo T-cell commitment. In the present study, we performed long-term cultures of CD34+ bone-marrow (BM) cells on TEC lines that were derived from cortical epithelial cells of post-natal thymus, to investigate whether human TECs could maintain long-term nonlymphoid haematopoiesis. Haematopoietic cells maintained in direct contact with established TEC lines were able to generate clonogenic progeny to both myeloid and erythroid cells for periods in excess of 5 weeks. Their abilities to support colony-forming units of granulocytes-macrophages (CFU-GM) and burst-forming units of erythroids (BFU-E) were almost equal to those of BM stromal cells. We observed similar results by using cloned TEC lines derived by limiting dilution, as well as those by using parental TEC lines. Colony-forming activities were maintained even when haematopoietic progenitor cells were physically separated from TEC lines and cultured on microporous membrane. These observations indicate that haematopoiesis maintained in TEC-contact long-term cultures may depend on soluble factors produced by TEC lines. Our results suggest that thymic cortical epithelial cells have the ability to support not only the differentiation of haematopoietic cells, but also long-term survival of clonogenic myeloid/erythroid progenitor cells.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes