Browsing by Author "Gekas, Christos"

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  • Gekas, Christos (Helsingin yliopisto, 2008)
    The continuous production of blood cells, a process termed hematopoiesis, is sustained throughout the lifetime of an individual by a relatively small population of cells known as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). HSCs are unique cells characterized by their ability to self-renew and give rise to all types of mature blood cells. Given their high proliferative potential, HSCs need to be tightly regulated on the cellular and molecular levels or could otherwise turn malignant. On the other hand, the tight regulatory control of HSC function also translates into difficulties in culturing and expanding HSCs in vitro. In fact, it is currently not possible to maintain or expand HSCs ex vivo without rapid loss of self-renewal. Increased knowledge of the unique features of important HSC niches and of key transcriptional regulatory programs that govern HSC behavior is thus needed. Additional insight in the mechanisms of stem cell formation could enable us to recapitulate the processes of HSC formation and self-renewal/expansion ex vivo with the ultimate goal of creating an unlimited supply of HSCs from e.g. human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) to be used in therapy. We thus asked: How are hematopoietic stem cells formed and in what cellular niches does this happen (Papers I, II)? What are the molecular mechanisms that govern hematopoietic stem cell development and differentiation (Papers III, IV)? Importantly, we could show that placenta is a major fetal hematopoietic niche that harbors a large number of HSCs during midgestation (Paper I)(Gekas et al., 2005). In order to address whether the HSCs found in placenta were formed there we utilized the Runx1-LacZ knock-in and Ncx1 knockout mouse models (Paper II). Importantly, we could show that HSCs emerge de novo in the placental vasculature in the absence of circulation (Rhodes et al., 2008). Furthermore, we could identify defined microenvironmental niches within the placenta with distinct roles in hematopoiesis: the large vessels of the chorioallantoic mesenchyme serve as sites of HSC generation whereas the placental labyrinth is a niche supporting HSC expansion (Rhodes et al., 2008). Overall, these studies illustrate the importance of distinct milieus in the emergence and subsequent maturation of HSCs. To ensure proper function of HSCs several regulatory mechanisms are in place. The microenvironment in which HSCs reside provides soluble factors and cell-cell interactions. In the cell-nucleus, these cell-extrinsic cues are interpreted in the context of cell-intrinsic developmental programs which are governed by transcription factors. An essential transcription factor for initiation of hematopoiesis is Scl/Tal1 (stem cell leukemia gene/T-cell acute leukemia gene 1). Loss of Scl results in early embryonic death and total lack of all blood cells, yet deactivation of Scl in the adult does not affect HSC function (Mikkola et al., 2003b. In order to define the temporal window of Scl requirement during fetal hematopoietic development, we deactivated Scl in all hematopoietic lineages shortly after hematopoietic specification in the embryo . Interestingly, maturation, expansion and function of fetal HSCs was unaffected, and, as in the adult, red blood cell and platelet differentiation was impaired (Paper III)(Schlaeger et al., 2005). These findings highlight that, once specified, the hematopoietic fate is stable even in the absence of Scl and is maintained through mechanisms that are distinct from those required for the initial fate choice. As the critical downstream targets of Scl remain unknown, we sought to identify and characterize target genes of Scl (Paper IV). We could identify transcription factor Mef2C (myocyte enhancer factor 2 C) as a novel direct target gene of Scl specifically in the megakaryocyte lineage which largely explains the megakaryocyte defect observed in Scl deficient mice. In addition, we observed an Scl-independent requirement of Mef2C in the B-cell compartment, as loss of Mef2C leads to accelerated B-cell aging (Gekas et al. Submitted). Taken together, these studies identify key extracellular microenvironments and intracellular transcriptional regulators that dictate different stages of HSC development, from emergence to lineage choice to aging.