Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT)-positive cells in human bone marrow (BM) are a phenotypically inhomogeneous population of precursor cells. In their majority, these TdT+ cells are unambiguously committed to the B lineage, as evidenced by CD19 expression. However, TdT+ precursors that lack CD19 also exist and these may encompass a differentiation potential for the B as well as for other lineages. Because recent data suggested that CD19 expression is not the earliest differentiation event in B-cell ontogeny, we sought to reevaluate TdT+ lymphoid precursors in pediatric BM to define the phenotypic denominator of B-lineage affiliation upstream of CD19. Using four-color flow cytometry, we focused on the assessment of the CD79a antigen, which is highly B-cell specific and which may also be expressed very early in B-cell ontogeny. We found that a majority of TdT+ cells coexpressed CD19 and CD79a in addition to CD10 and CD34, whereas, in all investigated samples, some TdT+ precursors lacked CD19 but expressed CD79a, which suggestively indicates also their B-lineage affiliation. In contrast to the CD19(+) precursors, which were usually CD10(hi) and CD79b+, these CD19(-)CD79a+ putative B-cell precursors preferentially expressed CD10 at low levels and were CD79b+ in only 41%. About 17% of these TdT+CD19(-)CD79a+ precursors also coexpressed CD33 and CD7, but not myeloperoxidase, CD14, or cytoplasmic CD3, which is discussed in the light of cellular activation rather than lineage promiscuity. Our data confirm that the earliest differentiation stages of B cells can be dissected upon expression of the lineage antigens CD79a and CD19 and imply that CD79a is earlier expressed than CD19. This raises the chance to follow the sequential events heralding B-cell commitment in the most immature precursors by correlating phenotypic and genetic differentiation markers.
Copyright 1998 by The American Society of Hematology