BACKGROUND: The cornerstone of the adult hematopoietic system and clinical treatments for blood-related disease is the cohort of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) that is harbored in the adult bone marrow microenvironment. Interestingly, this cohort of HSCs is generated only during a short window of developmental time. In mammalian embryos, hematopoietic progenitor and HSC generation occurs within several extra- and intraembryonic microenvironments, most notably from 'hemogenic' endothelial cells lining the major vasculature. HSCs are made through a remarkable transdifferentiation of endothelial cells to a hematopoietic fate that is long-lived and self-renewable. Recent studies are beginning to provide an understanding of the biochemical signaling pathways and transcription factors/complexes that promote their generation.
SCOPE OF REVIEW: The focus of this review is on the biochemistry behind the generation of these potent long-lived self-renewing stem cells of the blood system. Both the intrinsic (master transcription factors) and extrinsic regulators (morphogens and growth factors) that affect the generation, maintenance and expansion of HSCs in the embryo will be discussed.
MAJOR CONCLUSIONS: The generation of HSCs is a stepwise process involving many developmental signaling pathways, morphogens and cytokines. Pivotal hematopoietic transcription factors are required for their generation. Interestingly, whereas these factors are necessary for HSC generation, their expression in adult bone marrow HSCs is oftentimes not required. Thus, the biochemistry and molecular regulation of HSC development in the embryo are overlapping, but differ significantly from the regulation of HSCs in the adult.
GENERAL SIGNIFICANCE: HSC numbers for clinical use are limiting, and despite much research into the molecular basis of HSC regulation in the adult bone marrow, no panel of growth factors, interleukins and/or morphogens has been found to sufficiently increase the number of these important stem cells. An understanding of the biochemistry of HSC generation in the developing embryo provides important new knowledge on how these complex stem cells are made, sustained and expanded in the embryo to give rise to the complete adult hematopoietic system, thus stimulating novel strategies for producing increased numbers of clinically useful HSCs. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Biochemistry of Stem Cells.
- Cell Differentiation
- Hematopoietic Stem Cells