Rabbit marrow cells inoculated into diffusion chambers (10(7) cells/chamber) were implanted intraperitoneally into athymic mouse hosts and cultured in vivo for 20 days. A connective tissue consisting of bone, cartilage and fibrous tissues is formed by the stromal fibroblastic cells of marrow within the chambers. Cell kinetics and tissue differentiation have been studied using histomorphometric and biochemical analyses. Haemopoietic cell numbers decrease to less than 0.05% of the initial inoculum during the 20-day period. At 3 days an average of 15 stromal fibroblastic cells only are identifiable within the chambers. After 3 days there is a high rate of stromal cell proliferation with a doubling time of 14.5 h during the period from 3 to 8 days and an increase in the total stromal cell population by more than six orders of magnitude from 3 to 20 days. Thirteen to fourteen population doublings occur before expression of the first observable differentiation parameter, alkaline phosphatase activity. The data demonstrate that the mixture of connective tissues formed within the chamber is generated by a small number of cells with high capacity for proliferation and differentiation. This is consistent with the current hypothesis that stromal stem cells are present in bone marrow.

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