Extramedullary hematopoiesis: a new look at the underlying stem cell niche, theories of development, and occurrence in animals

Vet Pathol. 2012 May;49(3):508-23. doi: 10.1177/0300985811432344. Epub 2012 Jan 18.


Extramedullary hematopoiesis (EMH) is the formation and development of blood cells outside the medullary spaces of the bone marrow. Although widely considered an epiphenomenon, secondary to underlying primary disease and lacking serious clinical or diagnostic implications, the presence of EMH is far from incidental on a molecular basis; rather, it reflects a well-choreographed suite of changes involving stem cells and their microenvironment (the stem cell niche). The goals of this review are to reconsider the molecular basis of EMH based on current knowledge of stem cell niches and to examine its role in the pathophysiologic mechanisms of EMH in animals. The ability of blood cells to home, proliferate, and mature in extramedullary tissues of adult animals reflects embryonic patterns of hematopoiesis and establishment or reactivation of a stem cell niche. This involves pathophysiologic alterations in hematopoietic stem cells, extracellular matrix, stromal cells, and local and systemic chemokines. Four major theories involving changes in stem cells and/or their microenvironment can explain the development of most occurrences of EMH: (1) severe bone marrow failure; (2) myelostimulation; (3) tissue inflammation, injury, and repair; and (4) abnormal chemokine production. EMH has also been reported within many types of neoplasms. Understanding the concepts and factors involved in stem cell niches enhances our understanding of the occurrence of EMH in animals and its relationship to underlying disease. In turn, a better understanding of the prevalence and distribution of EMH in animals and its molecular basis could further inform our understanding of the hematopoietic stem cell niche.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cellular Microenvironment / physiology*
  • Chemokines / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Hematopoiesis, Extramedullary / physiology*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Stem Cell Niche / physiology*
  • Stromal Cells / physiology


  • Chemokines