Bone marrow from mature goats and sheep was cultured in plasma clots, and three erythropoietin (ESF)-dependent responses-growth (colony formation), differentiation (globin production), and initiation of hemoglobin C (alpha2beta2C) synthesis--were quantitated. ESF concentrations below 0.01 U/ml supported colony growth and adult hemoglobin production in cultures of goat marrow, while maximal hemoglobin C synthesis (70%), as measured between 72 and 96 h in culture, required a 100-fold higher ESF concentration. Sheep marrow was cultured in a medium enriched to enhance growth and to permit complete maturation of colonies. These colonies active in hemoglobin synthesis between 24 and 96 h produced mainly adult hemoglobin, and only between 96 and 120 h did sheep colonies develop which produced mainly hemoglobin C (up to 70%). A similar heterogeneity may exist among goat colonies. Thus, when goat bone marrow was fractionated by unit gravity sedimentation, more hemoglobin C synthesis was observed in colonies derived from cells of intermediate sedimentation velocity than in colonies derived from the most rapidly sedimenting cells. Brief exposure of sheep (in vivo) and goat (in vitro) bone marrow to a high ESF concentration committed precursor cells to the generation of colonies which, even at low ESF concentration, produced hemoglobin C. Committment to hemoglobin phenotype appears to be an early and probably irreversible event in the development of an erythroid cell.

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