Adult stem cells are finding increased therapeutic potential not least in tissue regeneration protocols. The cell sources being proposed for such protocols include embryonic, umbilical cord blood (CB) and adult bone marrow (BM). Although embryonic sources are controversial, CB and marrow are available immediately. The appropriate cells of use in these sources are considered to be extremely rare and a characterisation of the starting cell source is important for the development of adult stem cell protocols and ex vivo expansion. Umbilical CB and BM mononuclear cells were labelled for the antigens CD34, CD133, CD117, CD164, Thy-1 or CD38, and additional intracellular CD34 antigen. Three dimensional flow-cytometric analyses were carried out together with dual laser confocal microscope analysis for antigen profile expression. Variable levels of immaturity were detected on CB and BM populations using internal and external CD34 antigen. For CB and BM cells, internal CD34 (intCD34+) could be detected on co-expressing CD133+ cells before expression of external CD34 antigen (extCD34+). CD38 co-expression analysis also showed that a small but distinct group of cells expressing low CD38 and no external CD34 antigen could be detected. Additional phenotyping of these cells using CD117, Thy-1, CD164 and CD133 demonstrated variable primitive status detectable within the external CD34- population. Newly harvested primary CB and BM populations were shown to contain not only cellular populations of known standard sequential maturity but also populations of more extreme rarity. The presence of cells which lacked extracellular CD34 antigen, in both CB and BM, but which possessed CD133, has important implications for purification of human stem cells in clinical applications
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