The placenta was recently unveiled as an important hematopoietic organ, harboring a large pool of HSCs during midgestation. Yet, it has not been defined whether the placenta can generate HSCs de novo. By using the Runx1-LacZ and Ncx1 knockout mouse models we show that the placenta is a site of HSC generation and identify the cellular niches in which placental HSCs reside. Runx1 is essential for the emergence of definitive HSCs and remains expressed in HSCs throughout fetal development and adult life. Analysis of Runx1LacZ/+ and Runx1LacZ/LacZ placental sections nominated the large vessels of the placenta and the chorioallantoic mesenchyme as putative sites of HSC origin. Once formed, LacZ+ candidate HSCs convened in the labyrinth vessels. Co-staining of Runx1LacZ/+ placentas with an antibody specific for phosphorylated Ser 10 at histone 3, a marker of mitosis, showed mitotically active definitive hematopoietic cells in the labyrinth vessels, suggesting that the labyrinth is a microenvironmental niche capable of stimulating HSC expansion. In wild-type placentas, CD41+ nascent hematopoietic cells were found in the same vascular sites as in the Runx1-LacZ placentas but never in the mesenchyme. Instead, placental stroma was populated by F4/80+CD45+/−CD41- macrophages, suggesting that the placenta harbors two distinct hematopoietic lineages that are supported by different microenvironments. To verify that the CD41+ nascent HSCs were generated de novo in the placenta, we analyzed Ncx1−/− embryos, which lack heartbeat due to lack of the sodium-calcium exchange pump 1. In the absence of circulation, trafficking of hematopoietic cells between tissues is abolished. Strikingly, CD41+ HSCs emerge in the large vessels of the placenta in Ncx1−/− mutants. In some sections CD41+ cells formed clusters that were still connected to the vessels of the placenta and umbilical cord. These findings imply that formation of HSCs extends to a much larger anatomical area than was previously thought, including the placenta. Importantly, the placentas in both Ncx1−/− and control embryos (E8.5–9.5) generated mixed hematopoietic outgrowth including definitive progenitors in OP-9 co-culture, as verified by expression of c-kit, CD41 and CD45. When the differentiation of the definitive progenitors was assessed on methylcellulose, Ncx1−/− tissues demonstrated similar potential as Ncx1+/− hematopoietic organs (yolk sac, aorta gonad mesonephros (AGM) and placenta), yielding erythroid, myeloid and mixed colonies and B220+ lymphoid cells. These studies reveal that definitive hematopoietic cells with both myeloerythroid and lymphoid potential are generated de novo within the placental vasculature. Furthermore, the placental labyrinth provides a unique hematopoietic niche that is conducive for proliferation of hematopoietic cells and, unlike the AGM or the yolk sac, serves as a supportive niche for a large pool of HSCs prior to liver colonization.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.