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Blood. 2008 Mar 1;111(5):2621-30. Epub 2007 Dec 21.

Long-term maintenance of human hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells by expression of BMI1.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Section Stem Cell Biology, University Medical Center, University of Groningen, Deusinglaan 1, Groningen, The Netherlands.


The polycomb group (PcG) gene BMI1 has been identified as one of the key epigenetic regulators of cell fates during different stages of development in multiple murine tissues. In a clinically relevant model, we demonstrate that enforced expression of BMI1 in cord blood CD34(+) cells results in long-term maintenance and self-renewal of human hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. Long-term culture-initiating cell frequencies were increased upon stable expression of BMI1 and these cells engrafted more efficiently in NOD-SCID mice. Week 5 cobblestone area-forming cells (CAFCs) were replated to give rise to secondary CAFCs. Serial transplantation studies in NOD-SCID mice revealed that secondary engraftment was only achieved with cells overexpressing BMI1. Importantly, BMI1-transduced cells proliferated in stroma-free cytokine-dependent cultures for more than 20 weeks, while a stable population of approximately 1% to 5% of CD34(+) cells was preserved that retained colony-forming capacity. Whereas control cells lost most of their NOD-SCID engraftment potential after 10 days of ex vivo culturing in absence of stroma, NOD-SCID multilineage engraftment was retained by overexpression of BMI1. Thus, our data indicate that self-renewal of human hematopoietic stem cells is enhanced by BMI1, and we classify BMI1 as an intrinsic regulator of human stem/progenitor cell self-renewal.

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