Our previous studies demonstrated that TGF-beta 1 is required for efficient in vitro generation of dendritic cells (DC) from CD34+ progenitor cells under serum-free conditions. Here we show that TGF-beta 1 promotes the growth and differentiation of DC primarily by protecting the viability of DC precursors and not by enhancing their proliferative response. Addition of TGF-beta 1 to TNF-alpha, granulocyte-macrophage CSF, and stem cell factor-supplemented cultures had no significant effect on the proportions of cycling cells. Already at 72 h of culture, however, the proportion of apoptotic cells was reduced by more than 60% in the presence of TGF-beta 1. This early protective effect of TGF-beta 1 correlates with the outgrowth of higher numbers and proportions of CD1a+ DC at day 7 of culture. It also correlates with a significantly reduced Fas/APO-1 expression on TGF-beta 1 cultured cells. In contrast, granulomonocytic cells, also arising under these culture conditions, are not affected to such an extent. They are found at equal proportions, both in the presence and absence of TGF-beta 1. The striking DC growth-promoting effect of TGF-beta 1 could only be observed when both TGF-beta 1 and TNF-alpha were present in the cultures. TGF-beta 1, in the absence of TNF-alpha, rather inhibited than enhanced cell expansion. Thus, for optimal in vitro DC development to occur, all four cytokines must obviously act in concert and the combination of TGF-beta 1 with TNF-alpha seems to be particularly critical.

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