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Molecular Circuits in the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Niche


In mammals, hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) first arise from a specialized hemogenic endothelium that lines the developing embryonic aorta, migrate to and expand in the fetal liver, and ultimately colonize the bone marrow, which supports hematopoiesis throughout adult life. These distinct anatomic locations harbor specialized microenvironments that support the developmental maturation, expansion, and ultimately the balance of self-renewal and differentiation of HSCs. The transcriptional programs that promote formation and differentiation of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) have been widely interrogated, but much remains to be learned about the supportive niche cells of the hematopoietic microenvironment and the mechanisms of cell-cell interaction that specify HSC emergence during development, HSC migration, lodging, and expansion in fetal niches, and the ultimate quiescence, self-renewal, and differentiation in the bone marrow. In our preliminary data, we have gathered evidence for number of cell types, including endothelial cells, mesenchymal cells, macrophages, neural crest derivatives, and somites as components of the hematopoietic niche. We will gather comprehensive ?omics? data to catalogue the gene expression programs within the distinct hematopoietic niche cells that occur during development in the aorta-gonad-mesonephros (AGM), fetal liver, bone marrow, and placenta (aim 1). Our approach begins with tomo-seq, which enables us to discover gene expression patterns unique to cell populations like endothelium that have region-specific specialization. We will validate cell-specific expression in FACS purified cells by single cell RNA-seq and in situ hybridization, and will document functionality using morpholino and CRISPR knock-down in the experimentally tractable zebrafish model. We then use ATAC-seq to define functional open chromatin around these genes, and motif-finding software to identify DNA-binding regulatory factors that are candidate drivers of hematopoietic cell fate. We will employ a computational pipeline and develop novel algorithms to analyze these data (aim 2). Hypotheses emerging from aims 1 and 2 will be tested by constructing novel reporter strains of zebrafish and mice, as well as engineered pluripotent stem cells carrying synthetic reporters and drivers (aim 3). Our goal is to define the molecular circuitry that specifies niche cells during the critical periods of HSC emergence and expansion, and to probe cross-talk between niche elements and HSPCs. We hope to glean unique insights into the molecular mechanisms that drive hematopoietic formation and maturation during embryonic development, and to enhance our understanding of HSC maintenance, quiescence, self-renewal and differentiation.

Funded by the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through its Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, grant number UL1TR002541.