Hematopoietic differentiation is a highly complex process originating from an extraordinary population of cells called long-term repopulating hematopoietic stem cells (LT-HSCs). The unique feature of all stem cells, including HSCs, is their exceptional ability to divide asymmetrically giving rise to two different kinds of offspring. One daughter cell becomes an LT-HSC itself (self-renews) to maintain the LT-HSC pool, whereas the second daughter cell pursues a differentiation fate to ultimately give rise to terminally differentiated mature blood cells (Orkin and Zon, 2008). Quantification of phenotypic LT-HSCs can be performed by multi-color flow cytometry and the gold standard for assessment of LT-HSC self-renewal and function is competitive bone marrow transplantation (Miller et al., 2008). Although these methods are irreplaceable to determine LT-HSC abundance and functionality, they have their disadvantages and limitations. For example, competitive bone marrow transplantation is typically monitored as a function of peripheral blood donor contribution over 12-16 weeks. While reduced peripheral blood donor contribution by itself signifies impairment in the stem/progenitor cells compartment, it cannot unambiguously discriminate between reduced LT-HSC self-renewal, impaired LT-HSC differentiation or compromised progenitor cell differentiation. Here we describe an LT-HSCs methylcellulose colony-forming assay, as a fast complementary in vitro method to directly assess LT-HSC differentiation capacity. As described in Kerenyi et al. (2013), this technique acts as a powerful tool to differentiate between LT-HSC or progenitor cell differentiation defects.
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