The ligand for the receptor tyrosine kinase fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 (flt3), also referred to as fetal liver kinase-2 (flk-2), has an important role in hematopoiesis. The flt3 ligand (flt3L) is a growth factor for hematopoietic progenitors and induces hematopoietic progenitor and stem cell mobilization in vivo. In addition, when mice are treated with flt3L immature B cells, natural killer (NK) cells and dendritic cells (DC) are expanded in vivo. To further elucidate the role of flt3L in hematopoiesis, mice lacking flt3L (flt3L-/-) were generated by targeted gene disruption. Leukocyte cellularity was reduced in the bone marrow, peripheral blood, lymph nodes (LN), and spleen. Thymic cellularity, blood hematocrit, and platelet numbers were not affected. Significantly reduced numbers of myeloid and B-lymphoid progenitors were noted in the BM of flt3L-/- mice. In addition a marked deficiency of NK cells in the spleen was noted. DC numbers were also reduced in the spleen, LN, and thymus. Both myeloid-related (CD11c(++) CD8alpha(-)) and lymphoid-related (CD11c(++) CD8alpha(+)) DC numbers were affected. We conclude that flt3L has an important role in the expansion of early hematopoietic progenitors and in the generation of mature peripheral leukocytes.
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