Erythropoiesis pp 117-132 | Cite as

Functional Analysis of Erythroid Progenitors by Colony-Forming Assays

Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 1698)


The capacity of erythroid-lineage progenitors to form colonies of maturing red blood cells in semisolid media has provided a functional assay for these progenitors and has greatly contributed to our understanding of erythropoiesis. Studies since the 1970s have led to the development of a model of the erythron, whereby the earliest erythroid-committed progenitor, the immature burst-forming unit erythroid (BFU-E), gives rise sequentially to late-stage BFU-E and to colony-forming units erythroid (CFU-E). CFU-E give rise, in turn, to maturing erythroblast precursors that hemoglobinize. It is these terminal cells that comprise the mature colonies of erythroid cells derived from the progenitors cultured in semisolid media. The in vitro generation of erythroid colonies requires cytokine support, most notably erythropoietin (EPO), which is critical for CFU-E survival and for promoting erythroblast maturation.

During mouse embryogenesis, a transient population of primitive erythroid colony-forming progenitors (EryP-CFC) emerges in the yolk sac and gives rise to a wave of maturing primitive erythroblasts in the fetal bloodstream. This wave of EryP-CFC is followed closely by a wave of BFU-E in the yolk sac that enter the bloodstream and seed the fetal liver to generate the first definitive red cells in the fetus. BFU-E in the fetal liver, unlike those in the adult bone marrow, can give rise to colonies in vitro when cultured with EPO alone and also are more sensitive to EPO levels. Here, we describe methods for the in vitro culture of murine embryonic (primitive) and fetal/adult (definitive) erythroid progenitors in semisolid media.

Key words

Erythropoiesis Progenitor Yolk sac Colony-forming cell Erythropoietin 



We thank Gordon Keller and Marion Kennedy for sharing so generously of their knowledge and expertise of tissue culture and hematopoietic progenitor colony assays. Scott Peslak and Paul Kingsley photographed the erythroid colonies. This work has been supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health and from the Strong Children’s Research Center, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.


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© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pediatrics, Center for Pediatric Biomedical ResearchUniversity of Rochester Medical CenterRochesterUSA

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