An important goal for the investigation of the proliferation of mammalian cells is to establish a fully defined condition for culturing them in vitro. Here, we report establishment of a fully defined culture condition that supports the primary culture of normal c-kit+IL-7 receptor (IL-7R)+ B precursor cells without the aid of stromal cell lines. This defined culture condition contains IL-7, the ligand for c-kit, transferrin, insulin, and bovine serum albumin as protein components. By using the cell lines derived from RAG2(-/-) mice, which do not differentiate into c-kit- stage, we have evaluated the role of each protein in the cell cycle progression of c-kit+IL-7R+ B precursor cells. Since B precursor cells can grow without insulin, c-kit remains a sole functional receptor tyrosine kinase for their growth. While both c-kit ligand (KL) and IL-7 are the requisite molecules for sustained proliferation of B precursor cells, each molecule plays distinct roles. IL-7 starvation results in prompt arrest of the cells at G1. An accumulation of the cells in the mitotic phase was also detected. Thus, the major role of IL-7 is to regulate the G1/S transition and the process of cytokinesis of B precursor cells. Although prolonged KL starvation over 48 h resulted in accumulation of G1 cells, its effect could not be detected within 24 h, which is long enough for all the cells to complete one cell cycle. This suggests that KL might be involved in the cell cycle progression of B precursor cells in a manner that its signal could still be effective in the one or two cell cycles that follow. Although molecular nature of the signals underlying the present observation awaits future investigation, the method described in this report would provide a useful model system for investigating the signaling pathways that are involved in the cell cycle progression of B precursor cells.

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