In vitro erythroid differentiation systems are used to study the mechanisms underlying normal and abnormal erythropoiesis and to test the effects of various extracellular factors on erythropoiesis. The use of serum or conditioned medium in liquid cultures and the seeding of cultures with heterogeneous peripheral blood mononuclear cells confound the reproducibility of these systems. Newer erythroid differentiation culture systems have overcome some of these limitations by using a fully defined, serum-free medium and initiating cultures using purified CD34+ cells. Although widely used in bulk cultures, these protocols have not been rigorously tested in high-throughput or single-cell assays. Here, we describe a serum-free erythroid differentiation system suitable for small-scale and single-cell experiments. This system generates large numbers of terminally differentiated erythroid cells of very high purity. Here we have adapted this culture system to a 96-well format and have developed a protocol to grow erythroid colonies from single erythroid progenitors in minute culture volumes.
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