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Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014 Oct 10;21(11):1605-19. doi: 10.1089/ars.2014.5941. Epub 2014 Jun 26.

Reactive oxygen species regulate hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal, migration and development, as well as their bone marrow microenvironment.

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1 Department of Immunology, Weizmann Institute of Science , Rehovot, Israel .



Blood forming, hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) mostly reside in the bone marrow in a quiescent, nonmotile state via adhesion interactions with stromal cells and macrophages. Quiescent, proliferating, and differentiating stem cells have different metabolism, and accordingly different amounts of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS). Importantly, ROS is not just a byproduct of metabolism, but also plays a role in stem cell state and function.


ROS levels are dynamic and reversibly dictate enhanced cycling and myeloid bias in ROS(high) short-term repopulating stem cells, and ROS(low) quiescent long-term repopulating stem cells. Low levels of ROS, regulated by intrinsic factors such as cell respiration or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-oxidase (NADPH oxidase) activity, or extrinsic factors such as stem cell factor or prostaglandin E2 are required for maintaining stem cell self-renewal. High ROS levels, due to stress and inflammation, induce stem cell differentiation and enhanced motility.


Stem cells need to be protected from high ROS levels to avoid stem cell exhaustion, insufficient host immunity, and leukemic transformation that may occur during chronic inflammation. However, continuous low ROS production will lead to lack of stem cell function and opportunistic infections. Ultimately, balanced ROS levels are crucial for maintaining the small stem cell pool and host immunity, both in homeostasis and during stress situations.


Deciphering the signaling pathway of ROS in HSC will provide a better understanding of ROS roles in switching HSC from quiescence to activation and vice versa, and will also shed light on the possible roles of ROS in leukemia initiation and development.

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