The ability of stromal cells in bone marrow to support B lymphopoiesis may be partially mediated by secretion of biologically active factors. The first cytokine with lymphopoietic activity to be molecularly cloned from stromal cells, IL-7, was originally identified by its growth-promoting activity on long term cultured lymphocytes. We now report that murine rIL-7 is a potent proliferative stimulus for B cell progenitors isolated from fresh bone marrow. Proliferation was initially most obvious among large precursor cells which bear the B lineage associated Ag, Ly5/220 and BP1. A majority of these also contained cytoplasmic Ig mu H chains. Extended culture with IL-7 resulted in a predominance of immature c mu- lymphocytes. No effect by IL-7 was observed on the proliferation of mature lymphocytes. It also did not induce maturation in a number of early B lineage cell lines, or promote the formation of LPS-responsive, clonable B cells from precursors. When incorporated into semisolid agar medium, IL-7 specifically and rapidly induced the formation of pre-B cell colonies in a linear fashion with respect to numbers of cells cultured from either purified B cell progenitor preparations or unfractionated bone marrow. In both liquid and agar culture conditions, the IL-7 proliferative activity was inhibitable by two related forms of transforming growth factor (TGF) beta, TGF-beta 1 and TGF-beta 2. Taken together, these results indicate that IL-7 is a stimulus for replication of normal B lineage cells at an early stage of differentiation, and its activity can be modulated by other cytokines. IL-7 also provides a means of studying the progeny of a single B cell progenitor, and of enumerating clonable pre-B cells in the absence of colony formation by other cell types in bone marrow.

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