CSF-1 is a subclass of the colony-stimulating factors that specifically stimulates the growth of mononuclear phagocytes. We used the binding of 125I-CSF-1 at 0 degrees C by single cell suspensions from various murine tissues, in conjunction with radioautography, to determine the frequency of binding cells, their identity, and the number of binding sites per binding cell. For all tissues examined, saturation of binding sites was achieved within 2 h at 2--3 x 10(-10) M 125I-CSF-1. The binding was irreversible and almost completely blocked by a 2 h preincubation with 5 x 10(-10) M CSF-1. 125I-CSF-1 binding was exhibited by 4.3% of bone marrow cells, 7.5% of blood mononuclear cells, 2.4% of spleen cells, 20.5% of peritoneal cells, 11.8% of pulmonary alveolar cells and 0.4% of lymph node cells. Four morphologically distinguishable cell types bound 125I-CSF-1: blast cells; mononuclear cells with a ratio of nuclear to cytoplasmic area (N/C) greater than 1; cells with indented nuclei; and mononuclear cells with N/C less than or equal to 1. No CSF-1 binding cells were detected among blood granulocytes or thymus cells. Bone marrow promyelocytes, myelocytes, neutrophilic granulocytes, eosinophilic granulocytes, nucleated erythroid cells, enucleated erythrocytes, and megakaryocytes also failed to bind. The frequency distribution of grain counts per cell for blood mononuclear cells was homogenous. In contrast, those for bone marrow, spleen, alveolar, and peritoneal cells were heterogeneous. The monocytes in blood or bone marrow (small cells, with either indented nuclei or with N/C greater than 1) were relatively uniformly labeled, possessing approximately 3,000 binding sites per cell. Larger binding cells (e.g., alveolar cells) may possess higher numbers of receptors. It is concluded that CSF-1 binding is restricted to mononuclear phagocytic cells and their precursors and that it can be used to identify both mature and immature cells of this series.

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