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Open Access Research article

Genomics based analysis of interactions between developing B-lymphocytes and stromal cells reveal complex interactions and two-way communication

Jenny Zetterblad2, Hong Qian2, Sasan Zandi2, Robert Månsson1, Anna Lagergren1, Frida Hansson1, David Bryder3, Nils Paulsson1 and Mikael Sigvardsson12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department for Hematopoietic Stemcell Biology, Lund Stem Cell Center, BMC B12, 221 84 Lund, Sweden

2 Institution for Clinical and Experimental Science, Linköping Universitet, 581 85 Linköping, Sweden

3 Department for Immunology, Lund University, BMC D14, 221 84 Lund, Sweden

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:108  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-108

Published: 12 February 2010

Abstract

Background

The use of functional genomics has largely increased our understanding of cell biology and promises to help the development of systems biology needed to understand the complex order of events that regulates cellular differentiation in vivo. One model system clearly dependent on the integration of extra and intra cellular signals is the development of B-lymphocytes from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow. This developmental pathway involves several defined differentiation stages associated with specific expression of genes including surface markers that can be used for the prospective isolation of the progenitor cells directly from the bone marrow to allow for ex vivo gene expression analysis. The developmental process can be simulated in vitro making it possible to dissect information about cell/cell communication as well as to address the relevance of communication pathways in a rather direct manner. Thus we believe that B-lymphocyte development represents a useful model system to take the first steps towards systems biology investigations in the bone marrow.

Results

In order to identify extra cellular signals that promote B lymphocyte development we created a database with approximately 400 receptor ligand pairs and software matching gene expression data from two cell populations to obtain information about possible communication pathways. Using this database and gene expression data from NIH3T3 cells (unable to support B cell development), OP-9 cells (strongly supportive of B cell development), pro-B and pre-B cells as well as mature peripheral B-lineage cells, we were able to identify a set of potential stage and stromal cell restricted communication pathways. Functional analysis of some of these potential ways of communication allowed us to identify BMP-4 as a potent stimulator of B-cell development in vitro. Further, the analysis suggested that there existed possibilities for progenitor B cells to send signals to the stroma. The functional consequences of this were investigated by co-culture experiments revealing that the co-incubation of stromal cells with B cell progenitors altered both the morphology and the gene expression pattern in the stromal cells.

Conclusions

We believe that this gene expression data analysis method allows for the identification of functionally relevant interactions and therefore could be applied to other data sets to unravel novel communication pathways.