Colony-stimulating factor

Colony-stimulating factors (CSFs) are secreted glycoproteins which bind to receptor proteins on the surfaces of hemopoietic stem cells and thereby activate intracellular signaling pathways which can cause the cells to proliferate and differentiate into a specific kind of blood cell (usually white blood cells, for red blood cell formation see erythropoietin).

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They may be synthesized and administered exogenously. However, such molecules can at a latter stage be detected, since they differ slightly from the endogenous ones in e.g. features of posttranslational modification.

Hemopoietic stem cells were cultured  on a so-called semi solid matrix which prevents cells from moving around, so that if a single cell starts proliferating, all of the cells derived from it will remain clustered around the spot in the matrix where the first cell was originally located, and these are referred to as "colonies." It was therefore possible to add various substances to cultures of hemopoietic stem cells and then examine which kinds of colonies (if any) were "stimulated" by them.

The substance which was found to stimulate formation of colonies of macrophages, for instance, was called macrophage colony-stimulating factor, for granulocytes, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, and so on.


The colony-stimulating factors are soluble, in contrast to other, membrane-bound substances of the hematopoietic microenvironment. This is sometimes used as the definition of CSFs. They transduce by paracrine, endocrine or autocrine signaling.

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