B lymphocyte precursor cells in mouse bone marrow develop in close association with stromal cells which provide essential growth signals. To identify molecules that may normally play a role in this interaction we have examined the in vivo binding of a new monoclonal antibody (mAb) (KMI6) that recognizes a determinant on a bone marrow stromal cell line (BMS2) in vitro. Flow cytometric and radioautographic evaluations revealed that the antigen recognized by KMI6 is represented on the surface of an extremely small number of cells in bone marrow cell suspensions from adult mice. An apparent molecular mass of 110 kD was obtained by surface labeling of a stromal cell clone and immunoprecipitation. Purified mAb KMI6 labeled with 125I was then given intravenously to young C3H/HeJ mice. Unbound mAb was washed out by cardiac perfusion and femoral bone marrow was examined by light and electron microscope radioautography. KMI6 labeling was heavy on the plasma membrane of many stromal cells, especially those located towards the outer subosteal region. The KMI6-labeled stromal cells were usually associated with cells of lymphoid morphology which they often completely surrounded. The labeling was restricted to areas of stromal cell plasma membranes in contact with lymphoid cells. The lymphoid cells themselves, as well as macrophages and other hemopoietic cells, failed to bind mAb KMI6 significantly. Stromal cells in bone marrow depleted of hemopoietic cells by gamma-irradiation (9,5 Gy) bound mAb KMI6 at reduced intensity. The results demonstrate that the KMI6 determinant, a 110-kD protein, is expressed on bone marrow stromal cells in vivo. Its restriction to areas of interaction with lymphoid cells suggests a role in forming microenvironmental niches of B lymphopoiesis. The surface membrane of individual stromal cells may thus be functionally polarized towards interacting B cell precursors and other hemopoietic cells.

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