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Genes Dev. 2011 Sep 15;25(18):1928-42. doi: 10.1101/gad.17421911. Epub 2011 Sep 2.

Cooperation between both Wnt/{beta}-catenin and PTEN/PI3K/Akt signaling promotes primitive hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal and expansion.

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  • 1Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, Missouri 64110, USA.


Although self-renewal is the central property of stem cells, the underlying mechanism remains inadequately defined. Using a hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC)-specific conditional induction line, we generated a compound genetic model bearing both Pten deletion and β-catenin activation. These double mutant mice exhibit a novel phenotype, including expansion of phenotypic long-term hematopoietic stem cells (LT-HSCs) without extensive differentiation. Unexpectedly, constitutive activation of β-catenin alone results in apoptosis of HSCs. However, together, the Wnt/β-catenin and PTEN/PI3k/Akt pathways interact to drive phenotypic LT-HSC expansion by inducing proliferation while simultaneously inhibiting apoptosis and blocking differentiation, demonstrating the necessity of complementary cooperation between the two pathways in promoting self-renewal. Mechanistically, β-catenin activation reduces multiple differentiation-inducing transcription factors, blocking differentiation partially through up-regulation of Inhibitor of differentiation 2 (Id2). In double mutants, loss of Pten enhances the HSC anti-apoptotic factor Mcl-1. All of these contribute in a complementary way to HSC self-renewal and expansion. While permanent, genetic alteration of both pathways in double mutant mice leads to expansion of phenotypic HSCs, these HSCs cannot function due to blocked differentiation. We developed a pharmacological approach to expand normal, functional HSCs in culture using factors that reversibly activate both Wnt/β-catenin and PI3K/Akt signaling simultaneously. We show for the first time that activation of either single pathway is insufficient to expand primitive HSCs, but in combination, both pathways drive self-renewal and expansion of HSCs with long-term functional capacity.

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