Aging HSCs display a progressive and growth-factor sensitive elongation of G1.
Increased growth factor concentrations are required to stimulate mitogenesis in aging HSCs associated with reduced AKT activation.
Human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), like their counterparts in mice, comprise a functionally and molecularly heterogeneous population of cells throughout life that collectively maintain required outputs of mature blood cells under homeostatic conditions. In both species, an early developmental change in the HSC population involves a postnatal switch from a state in which most of these cells exist in a rapidly cycling state and maintain a high self-renewal potential to a state in which the majority of cells are in a quiescent state with an overall reduced self-renewal potential. However, despite the well-established growth factor dependence of HSC proliferation, whether and how this mechanism of HSC regulation might be affected by aging has remained poorly understood. To address this knowledge gap, we isolated highly HSC-enriched CD34+CD38−CD45RA−CD90+CD49f+ (CD49f+) cells from cord blood, adult bone marrow, and mobilized peripheral blood samples obtained from normal humans spanning 7 decades of age and then measured their functional and molecular responses to growth factor stimulation in vitro and their regenerative activity in vivo in mice that had undergone transplantation. Initial experiments revealed that advancing donor age was accompanied by a significant and progressively delayed proliferative response but not the altered mature cell outputs seen in normal older individuals. Importantly, subsequent dose-response analyses revealed an age-associated reduction in the growth factor–stimulated proliferation of CD49f+ cells mediated by reduced activation of AKT and altered cell cycle entry and progression. These findings identify a new intrinsic, pervasive, and progressive aging-related alteration in the biological and signaling mechanisms required to drive the proliferation of very primitive, normal human hematopoietic cells.