Live and Let Die : Critical regulation of survival in normal and malignant hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells

Abstract: The hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) is characterized by its ability to self-renew and produce all mature blood cells throughout the life of an organism. This is tightly regulated to maintain a balance between survival, proliferation, and differentiation. The HSCs are located in specialized niches in the bone marrow thought to be low in oxygen, which is suggested to be involved in the regulation of HSC maintenance, proliferation, and migration. However, the importance of hypoxia in the stem cell niche and the molecular mechanisms involved remain fairly undefined. Another important regulator of human HSCs maintenance is the tyrosine kinase receptor FLT3, which triggers survival of HSCs and progenitor cells. Mutations in FLT3 cause constitutively active signaling. This leads to uncontrolled survival and proliferation, which can result in development of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). One of the purposes with this thesis is to investigate how survival, proliferation and self-renewal in normal HSCs are affected by hypoxia. To study this, we used both in vitro and in vivo models with isolated Lineage-Sca-1+Kit+ (LSK) and CD34-Flt3-LSK cells from mouse bone marrow. We found that hypoxia maintained an immature phenotype. In addition, hypoxia decreased proliferation and induced cell cycle arrest, which is the signature of HSCs with long term multipotential capacity. A dormant state of HSCs is suggested to be critical for protecting and preventing depletion of the stem cell pool. Furthermore, we observed that hypoxia rescues HSCs from oxidative stress-induced cell death, implicating that hypoxia is important in the bone marrow niche to limit reactive oxidative species (ROS) production and give life-long protection of HSCs. Another focus in this thesis is to investigate downstream pathways involved in tyrosine kinase inhibitor-induced cell death of primary AML cells and cell lines expressing mutated FLT3. Our results demonstrate an important role of the PI3K/AKT pathway to mediate survival signals from FLT3. We found FoxO3a and its target gene Bim to be key players of apoptosis in cells carrying oncogenic FLT3 after treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors. In conclusion, this thesis highlights hypoxic-mediated regulation of normal HSCs maintenance and critical effectors of apoptosis in leukemic cells expressing mutated FLT3.

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