FL-HSCs mainly use oxidative phosphorylation but with normal glycolysis, as indicated by a highly responsive NADH/NAD+ sensor.
FL-HSC activities are tightly regulated by the STAT3/MDH1-mediated malate-aspartate NADH shuttle.
The connections between energy metabolism and stemness of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) at different developmental stages remain largely unknown. We generated a transgenic mouse line for the genetically encoded NADH/NAD+ sensor (SoNar) and demonstrate that there are 3 distinct fetal liver hematopoietic cell populations according to the ratios of SoNar fluorescence. SoNar-low cells had an enhanced level of mitochondrial respiration but a glycolytic level similar to that of SoNar-high cells. Interestingly, 10% of SoNar-low cells were enriched for 65% of total immunophenotypic fetal liver HSCs (FL-HSCs) and contained approximately fivefold more functional HSCs than their SoNar-high counterparts. SoNar was able to monitor sensitively the dynamic changes of energy metabolism in HSCs both in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistically, STAT3 transactivated MDH1 to sustain the malate-aspartate NADH shuttle activity and HSC self-renewal and differentiation. We reveal an unexpected metabolic program of FL-HSCs and provide a powerful genetic tool for metabolic studies of HSCs or other types of stem cells.