Retinoic acid (RA) stimulates the clonal proliferation of mature bone marrow progenitor cells and inhibits the growth of leukemic progenitors, whereas its effects on normal primitive hematopoietic progenitors have not yet been investigated. This study investigated the ability of all-trans- and 9-cis-RA to modulate the proliferation and differentiation of murine Lin-Sca-1+ bone marrow progenitor cells. Both RA isoforms inhibited in a reversible and dose-dependent fashion, the proliferation of multi- but not single-factor responsive Lin-Sca-1+ progenitor cells. The 50% effective dose was 10 nM for both all-trans- and 9-cis-RA. Maximum inhibition was observed at 100-1,000 nM RA, resulting in a 50-75% reduction in the number of proliferative clones. Lin-Sca-1+ cells with high proliferative potential were preferentially inhibited by RA, resulting in a 80-100% inhibition depending on the hematopoietic growth factors stimulating their growth. The inhibitory effects of RA were directly mediated on the target cell, since the effects were observed at the single cell level. Furthermore, autocrine transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) production can probably not account for the observed inhibitory effects of RA, since a TGF-beta neutralizing antibody did not block RA-induced inhibition. Whereas RA, in general, is a differentiation-inducing agent, treatment of Lin-Sca-1+ progenitors resulted in the accumulation of an increased fraction of blasts and immature myeloid cells. Thus, RA inhibits the proliferation as well as differentiation of normal primitive hematopoietic progenitor cells.

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