Interaction of HSCs with their particular microenvironments, known as the stem cell niches, is critical for adult hematopoiesis in the bone marrow (BM). HSCs are keeping the balance of the quiescence and the self-renewal in the stem cell niche, and are maintaining long-term hematopoiesis. We have demonstrated that HSCs expressing the receptor tyrosine kinase Tie2 are quiescent and anti-apoptotic, transplantable and comprise a side-population (SP) of HSCs, which contact closely to angiopoietin-1, a ligand for Tie2, expressing osteoblasts (OBs) in the BM niche. Tie2 and Ang-1 are part of a key signaling interaction between HSCs and niche cells. This signaling pathway regulates the feature of HSCs in the BM niche. The interaction of Tie2 with Ang-1 in vitro is sufficient to maintain the long-term blood-repopulating (LTR) activity of HSCs in vivo by preventing cell division. In addition, Ang-1 enhanced the ability of HSCs to become quiescent and also induced their adhesion to bone surface, resulting protection of HSC compartment from stresses which suppress hematopoiesis (Arai et al., Cell, 2004). In this study, we focused on the role of cell adhesion molecule on the maintenance of HSCs in BM niche. A previous paper reported that both quiescent HSCs and some of osteoblasts express N-cadherin. We found that Tie2+ HSC expressed N- and VE-cadherin, and OBs expressed N-, P-, and OB-cadherin. This suggests that an adherens junction between HSCs and OBs created via N-cadherin may contribute to HSC maintenance. Furthermore, N-cadherin overexpressing OP9 stromal cells (OP9/N-cadherin) maintained LTC-IC more than control OP9 cells did. Overexpression of N-cadherin in HSCs also maintained colony formation. In addition, in the presence of Ang-1 in coculture of OP9/N-cadherin and HSCs facilitated the maintenance of CFU-C and HPP-CFC formation after long-term culture. Furthermore, Ang-1 treatment upregulated the expression of N-cadherin in Tie2+ HSCs as well as β1-integrin. It suggests that Tie2/Ang-1 signaling enhanced cell-cell adhesion between HSCs and OBs.

Altogether, these observations led us to the novel model that the localization of HSCs on bone surface is regulated by stem cell specific adhesion molecules such as N-cadherin. Once the HSCs adjacently localize to OBs, Ang-1 produced by OBs may activate Tie2 on the HSCs and promote tight adhesion of HSCs in the niche, resulting in quiescence and enhanced survival of HSCs.

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