Differentiation and proliferation of hematopoietic progenitors take place in the bone marrow and is a tightly controlled process. Cell adhesion molecules of the integrin and immunoglobulin families have been shown to be involved in these processes, but almost nothing was known about the involvement of the cadherin family in the hematopoietic system. A PCR screening of RNA of human bone marrow mononuclear cells with specific primers for classical cadherins revealed that E-cadherin, which is mainly expressed by cells of epithelial origin, is also expressed by bone marrow cells. Western blot analysis and immunofluorescence staining of bone marrow sections confirmed this unexpected finding. A more detailed analysis using immunoaffinity columns and dual color flow cytometry showed that the expression of E-cadherin is restricted to defined maturation stages of the erythropoietic lineage. Erythroblasts and normoblasts express E-cadherin, mature erythrocytes do not. A functional role of E-cadherin in the differentiation process of the erythroid lineage was indicated by antibody-inhibition studies. The addition of anti-E-cadherin antibody to bone marrow mononuclear cultures containing exogeneous erythropoietin drastically diminished the formation of erythropoietic cells. These data suggest a non-anticipated expression and function of E-cadherin in one defined hematopoietic cell lineage.

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