Objective: To review the process of blood-cell formation in the murine and human yolk sac.
Data sources: Most articles were selected from the PubMed database.
Data synthesis: The yolk sac is the first site of blood-cell production during murine and human ontogeny. Primitive erythroid cells originate in the yolk sac and complete their maturation, including enucleation, in the bloodstream. Though species differences exist, the pattern of hematopoietic progenitor cell emergence in the yolk sac is similar in mouse and man. In both species, there is a stage of development where both primitive red blood cells and definitive erythroid progenitors are produced in the yolk sac. An "embryonic" hematopoietic stem cell that engrafts in myeloablated newborn but not adult mice can be detected in the murine yolk sac and embryo. Stem-cell activity in the human yolk sac has not been reported.
Conclusions: The yolk sac is the sole site of embryonic erythropoiesis. However, definitive erythroid, myeloid, and multipotential progenitors also originate in the yolk sac. The relationship between these progenitors and the "embryonic" hematopoietic stem cell has not been elucidated. Yolk sac-derived progenitor cells may seed the developing liver via the circulation and serve as the immediate source of the mature blood cells that are required to meet the metabolic needs of the rapidly growing fetus.