Maturation of Culture-Expanded Erythroid Progenitor Cells

Large numbers of erythroid cells can be generated by culturing CD34+ hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) in StemSpan™ serum-free expansion medium, e.g, StemSpan™ SFEM II, supplemented with StemSpan™ Erythroid Expansion Supplement. The Erythroid Expansion Supplement contains the cytokines stem cell factor (SCF), interleukin 3 (IL-3) and erythropoietin (EPO), which together promote the proliferation and differentiation of HSPCs to generate thousands of erythroblasts per input CD34+ cell after 1 - 3 weeks of culture. Most of these culture-expanded erythroblasts express transferrin receptor (CD71) and glycophorin A (GlyA, CD235a), but express little or no hemoglobin (Hb). These cells have the capacity to mature into hemoglobinized normoblasts and reticulocytes when they are moved to appropriate culture conditions for maturation. One suggested maturation protocol is described below.
This protocol effectively promotes maturation and hemoglobinization of erythroblasts generated from cord blood or bone marrow CD34+ cells, but cell yields and viability can be variable between experiments. If desired, modifications of the maturation protocol may be made to include co-culture with stromal cells.1-8
You will need:

Step 1. Expand Cells

Plate CD34+ cells at ~10,000 cells per mL in StemSpan™ SFEM II medium supplemented with Erythroid Expansion Supplement. Add fresh medium and supplement on day 4 and replate or dilute the cells in fresh medium and supplement every 3 - 4 days to ~1 x 105 cells per mL. If maintained properly, cells will continue to proliferate and generate CD71+GlyA+ erythroblasts for > 2 weeks.

Step 2. Harvest and Wash Culture-Expanded Erythroblasts

Collect and count cells, while assessing viability, e.g., with trypan blue and a hemocytometer, or an automated cell counter. If desired, measure CD71 and GlyA expression using flow cytometry. Centrifuge for 5 - 10 minutes at 200 x g to pellet. Aspirate the supernatant. Wash once with either Iscove’s MDM or StemSpan™ medium (without added growth factors) to remove residual Erythroid Expansion Supplement or other additives. Cell yield can be variable, as it is highly dependent on the quality of the original CD34+ cell sample. A cell yield of at least 1000 CD71+GlyA+ cells per original CD34+ cell is typical after 2 weeks of culture, but it is possible to get as many as 100,000 or more erythroblasts per original CD34+ cell with high quality samples. If cells were maintained optimally during the expansion culture, viability should be high (~90%). Viability might be lower if cell growth was poor (< 1000 erythroblasts per original CD34+ cell) or if cultures were overgrown due to high plating density and/or suboptimal refeeding and replating.

Step 3. Replate in Maturation Conditions

Resuspend the cell pellet at a concentration of 5 - 10 x 105 cells per mL in fresh SFEM II medium supplemented with 3% normal human AB serum and recombinant human EPO (at a concentration of 1 - 3 U/mL). The inclusion of human serum is important to maintain cell viability.

Step 4. Analyze Cells

After 4 - 7 days of culture, examine the cells for CD71 and GlyA expression by flow cytometry. To measure hemoglobinization, cells may be prepared on slides using a cytocentrifuge and stained with benzidine or a similar reagent. During maturation cell numbers do not increase significantly, viability can be variable and is typically lower than before maturation, cell size decreases, CD71 expression decreases but remains detectable on most cells, GlyA expression remains high or increases further, and cell pellets become visibly red due to the accumulation of Hb. Enucleated cells may be observed when cultures are viewed under a microscope, indicated by the presence of reticulocytes and pyrenocytes (the extruded nucleus encased in a thin cytoplasmic layer) (Figure 1).
Morphology of Normoblasts, Reticulocytes and Pyrenocytes in Maturation Cultures of Erythroid Progenitor Cells Cultured in SFEM II

Figure 1. Morphology of Normoblasts, Reticulocytes and Pyrenocytes in Maturation Cultures of Erythroid Progenitor Cells Cultured in SFEM II

Erythroid cells, including pyrenocytes (brown arrows), normoblasts (gold arrows) and reticulocytes (dark grey arrows), viewed under a microscope at 40X magnification after 14 days of culture in expansion conditions and 7 days of culture in maturation conditions, using SFEM II and the protocol described above.

For more information about StemSpan™ SFEM II and StemSpan™ Erythroid Expansion Supplement please contact

This tech tip is published as part of our Hematopoiesis Hub. Visit to find more tips about classic and new products, see conversations with experts in the field about their science, request a wallchart and more!


  1. Giarratana MC et al. (2005) Nat Biotechnol 23: 69-74.
  2. Leberbauer C et al. (2005) Blood 105(1): 85-94.
  3. Miharada K et al. (2006) Nat Biotechnol 24(10): 1255-6.
  4. Migliaccio G et al. (2010) Cell Transplant 19(4): 453-69.
  5. van den Akker E et al. (2010) Haematologica 95(9): 1594-8.
  6. Timmins NE et al. (2011) Tissue Eng Part C Methods 17(11): 1131-7.
  7. Giarratana MC et al. (2011) Blood 118(19): 5071-9.
  8. Tirelli V et al. (2011) Stem Cells Int Epub, DOI: 10.4061/2011/602483.

Contact STEMCELL Technologies

Our Customer Service, Sales, and Product and Scientific Support departments in North America are available between 6 am and 5 pm Pacific Time (9 am and 8 pm Eastern Time). One of our representatives will be happy to help you by telephone or email. Please complete the form to contact us by email. A representative will get back to you shortly.

StemCell Technologies Inc. and affiliates ("STEMCELL Technologies") does not share your email address with third parties. StemCell Technologies Inc. will use your email address to confirm your identity and send you newsletters, transaction-related emails, promotional and customer service emails in accordance with our privacy policy. You can change your email preferences at any time.