We investigated the expression of HLA Ag on hemopoietic progenitors (burst-forming unit E, CFU-E, and CFU-granulocyte-macrophage) and precursors from human embryonic fetal liver (FL) and peripheral blood at 5 to 9 wk postconception. The expression on progenitors was evaluated by complement-mediated cytotoxicity followed by assay of residual progenitors in clonogenic culture; immunofluorescence and RIA were used for differentiated precursors. HLA Class I and II Ag are not expressed on the primitive erythroid lineage, i.e., on yolk sac-derived megaloblasts circulating in 5- to 6-wk peripheral blood. However, they are gradually induced on the definitive erythroid lineage in FL. Their expression on progenitors is first detected at 6 wk and shows a progressive increase through 9 wk, up to greater than or equal to 50% of adult values. A similar expression pattern is observed for FL erythroblasts. Incubation of 6-wk FL erythroid cells with IFN-alpha, -beta, or -gamma, or TNF-alpha induces a sharp rise of the expression of HLA class I, but not HLA class II Ag on both progenitors and precursors. In contrast, incubation with PHA-stimulated adult leukocyte-conditioned medium causes a marked increase of both HLA-ABC and HLA class II Ag expression. We hence investigated the effect of cytokines present in leukocyte-conditioned medium on the expression of HLA class II Ag: although IL-1 alpha, IL-2, and granulocyte-macrophage-CSF do not exert a significant action, IL-1 beta and IL-4 induce a marked increase of HLA class II, but not class I, Ag expression on 6-wk FL progenitors and precursors. Low amounts of IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, and IL-1 beta were detected in the supernatants and extracts of 6-wk FL cells. The concentrations of these cytokines in both supernatants and extracts sharply increase in the 7- to 8-wk period, particularly for TNF-alpha and IL-1 beta, thus indicating a direct correlation with the rise of HLA Ag expression on FL erythroid cells in the same period. In conclusion, the expression of HLA class I and II Ag is not detected on primitive megaloblasts, but is gradually induced on definitive FL progenitors and precursors, possibly via production of specific cytokines in the FL microenvironment, i.e., IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha for class I Ag and IL-1 beta for class II Ag.

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