Recent reports in RNA biology have suggested that long non-coding RNAs, edited RNAs, and alternatively spliced RNAs (henceforth referred to as non-canonical RNAs) play a relatively unclear but critical role in numerous cells, tissues, and diseases. Of interest to hematology, several recent studies have also shown that these non-canonical RNAs all play various roles in both normal and malignant hematopoiesis, but no study yet has comprehensively examined these non-canonical RNAs in hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs).

To this end, we conducted microarray and RNAseq analyses of mouse hematopoietic cells at various stages of differentiation. Microarray analysis detected several thousand possible lincRNAs expressed in hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs), several hundred of which were significantly enriched in CD34-LSKs compared to more differentiated populations. RNAseq analysis provided a more detailed look at these non-coding RNAs, as well as a slightly more conservative estimate of the abundance and structure of the long non-coding RNAs expressed and significantly enriched in HSPCs. In addition to examining lincRNAs, RNAseq data allowed us to profile alternative splicing events and RNA editing events in HSPCs. Interestingly, several hundred potentially significant HSC-specific alternative splicing events and RNA editing events were also discovered.

In order to test whether these non-canonical RNAs play a functional role in HSPCs we performed shRNA mediated knockdown of several interesting HSC-specific lincRNAs and alternatively-spliced transcripts. We found that knockdown of several of these candidates was incompatible with hematopoiesis, both in vitro and in vivo. To better understand how these particular non-canonical RNAs function in HSCs, we are currently carrying out RNA FISH studies.

In this study, we explored the RNA environment of HSCs and compared it to their downstream progenitors. We discovered several hundred novel non-coding transcripts, hundreds of alternative splicing events and hundreds of RNA editing events unique to HSCs. Functional investigation of some of these events revealed that these non-canonical RNAs do indeed play a critical role in HSC maintenance. The data presented here should eventually be an asset to other HSC researchers interested in the RNA biology of HSCs.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.