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Leukemia. 2004 Jul;18(7):1176-99.

Apoptotic mechanisms in the control of erythropoiesis.

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Department of Hematology and Oncology, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.


Erythropoiesis is a complex multistep process encompassing the differentiation of hemopoietic stem cells to mature erythrocytes. The steps involved in this complex differentiation process are numerous and involve first the differentiation to early erythoid progenitors (burst-forming units-erythroid, BFU-E), then to late erythroid progenitors (colony-forming units-erythroid) and finally to morphologically recognizable erythroid precursors. A key event of late stages of erythropoiesis is nuclear condensation, followed by extrusion of the nucleus to produce enucleated reticulocytes and finally mature erythrocytes. During the differentiation process, the cells became progressively sensitive to erythropoietin that controls both the survival and proliferation of erythroid cells. A normal homeostasis of the erythropoietic system requires an appropriate balance between the rate of erythroid cell production and red blood cell destruction. Growing evidences outlined in the present review indicate that apoptotic mechanism play a relevant role in the control of erythropoiesis under physiologic and pathologic conditions. Withdrawal of erythropoietin or stimulation of death receptors such as Fas or TRAIL-Rs leads to activation of a subset of caspase-3, -7 and -8, which then cleave the transcription factors GATA-1 and TAL-1 and trigger apoptosis. In addition, there is evidence that a number of caspases are physiologically activated during erythroid differentiation and are functionally required for erythroid maturation. Several caspase substrates are cleaved in differentiating cells, including the protein acinus whose activation by cleavage is required for chromatin condensation. The studies on normal erythropoiesis have clearly indicated that immature erythroid precursors are sensitive to apoptotic triggering mediated by activation of the intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways. These apoptotic mechanisms are frequently exacerbated in some pathologic conditions, associated with the development of anemia (ie, thalassemias, multiple myeloma, myelodysplasia, aplastic anemia). The considerable progress in our understanding of the apoptotic mechanisms underlying normal and pathologic erythropoiesis may offer the way to improve the treatment of several pathologic conditions associated with the development of anemia.

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