We have characterized the adhesion molecule HEMCAM, which is expressed by hemopoietic progenitors of embryonic bone marrow. HEMCAM belongs to the immunoglobulin superfamily and consists of the V-V-C2-C2-C2 Ig domains. There are three mRNA splice variants. One has a short cytoplasmic tail; another has a long tail; while the third seems to lack transmembrane and cytoplasmic regions. Except for the NH2-terminal sequence, HEMCAM is identical to gicerin, a molecular involved in neurite outgrowth and Wilm's kidney tumor progression in the chicken and it is significantly homologous with MUC18 a molecule involved in melanoma progression and metastasis in human beings. In the bone marrow the HEMCAM+ cell population contains c-kit+ subsets. HEMCAM+ cells coexpressing the receptor tyrosine kinase c-kit give rise to T cells at a frequency of 0.17 when injected intrathymically in congenic animals. As HEMCAM+, c-kit+ cells differentiate into myeloid and erythroid CFU's the double-positive cell population seems to contain precursors for multiple lineages. HEMCAM promotes cell-cell adhesion of transfected cells. Cross-linking of murine HEMCAM leads to cell spreading of T-lymphocyte progenitors adhering to the vascular adhesion molecules, PECAM-1 and VCAM-1. Thus, HEMCAM is likely to be involved in cellular adhesion and homing processes.

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