The process of B lymphopoiesis changes with increasing age, resulting in a severe drop in the number of pre-B cells in old mice. We have shown that the ability of freshly isolated pro-B cells to proliferate on stromal cells declines with age. In this study, we wanted to determine the reason for the diminished response of the aged pro-B cells. The functional alterations could arise from changes intrinsic to the pro-B cells or to composition of the precursor population. Changes in the composition of pro-B cells in marrow or long-term bone marrow culture system for B lymphocytes (LTBMC-B) could not account for the functional losses. We then examined the hypothesis that the diminished amount of proliferation on stromal cells was due to changes in the responsiveness to stroma-derived cytokines. The proliferation to IL-7 but not to stem cell factor (SCF) or insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) was severely impaired by 24 mo of age, independently of the concentration of IL-7 and length of culture time. The reduced IL-7 response could not be explained by an increase in the percentage of cells undergoing apoptosis; rather, a greater frequency of aged cells remained in G0/G1 after IL-7 stimulation. Furthermore, the impaired responsiveness of the aged pro-B cells is not due to diminished expression of the IL-7R alpha-chain or the common gamma-chain. Since only IL-7 responsiveness is impaired, we believe that the underlying molecular mechanism for the cellular alterations is specific to signaling through the IL-7 receptor complex.

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