An understanding of the number and contribution of individual pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) to the formation of blood lineages has important clinical implications for gene therapy and stem cell transplantation. We have been able to efficiently mark rhesus macaque long-term repopulating stem and progenitor cells with retroviral vectors, and track their in vivo contributions to hematopoiesis using the linear amplification mediated-polymerase chain reaction (LAM-PCR) technique of insertion site analysis. We assessed the impact of busulfan on contributions of individual retrovirally marked clones to hematopoiesis. There were 2 macaques that received transplants of retrovirally transduced CD34+ cells 2 years previously that were then treated with 4 mg/kg busulfan. Despite only transient and mild suppression of peripheral blood counts, the numbers of individual stem/progenitor clones contributing to granulocyte production decreased dramatically, by 80% in the first monkey and by 60% in the second monkey. A similar impact was seen on clones contributing to T cells. The clone numbers recovered gradually back toward baseline by 5 months following busulfan in the first monkey and by 3 months in the second monkey, and have remained stable for more than one year in both animals. Tracking of individual clones with insertionsite-specific primers suggested that clones contributing to hematopoiesis prior to busulfan accounted for the majority of this recovery, but that some previously undetected clones began to contribute during this recovery phase. These results indicate that even low-dose busulfan significantly affects stem and progenitor cell dynamics. The clonal diversity of hematopoiesis was significantly decreased after even a single, clinically well-tolerated dose of busulfan, with slow but almost complete recovery over the next several months, suggesting that true long-term repopulating stem cells were not permanently deleted. However, the prolonged period of suppression of many clones suggests that transplanted HSCs may have a marked competitive advantage if they can engraft and proliferate during this time period, and supports the use of this agent in nonmyeloablative regimens.
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