Hematopoietic progenitor cell release to the circulation is the outcome of signals provided by cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules, and proteolytic enzymes. Clinical recruitment of immature CD34+ cells to the peripheral blood (PB) is achieved by repeated G-CSF stimulations. Yet, the mechanisms governing progenitor cell egress during steady state homeostasis and clinical mobilization are not fully understood. Membrane type-1 metalloproteinase (MT1-MMP) and its endogenous inhibitor, RECK, are established key regulators of tumor and endothelial cell motility. We detected higher MT1-MMP and lower RECK expression on circulating human CD34+ progenitors and maturing leukocytes as compared to immature bone-marrow (BM) cells. MT1-MMP expression was even more prominent on CD34+ cells obtained from PB of G-CSF-treated healthy donors whereas RECK labeling was barely detected. In addition, five daily injections of G-CSF to NOD/SCID mice, previously engrafted with human cells, increased MT1-MMP and decreased RECK expression on human CD45+ leukocytes, immature CD34+ and primitive CD34+/CD38−/low cells, in a PI3K/Akt1-dependent manner, resulting in elevated MT1-MMP activity. Inverse regulation of MT1-MMP and RECK by G-CSF mobilization was confirmed by in situ immuno-labeling of BM sections, as well as by human MT1-MMP and RECK mRNA expression analysis of leukocytes repopulating the BM of chimeric mice. Blocking MT1-MMP function impaired mobilization, while RECK neutralization promoted egress of human CD34+ progenitors in the functional pre-clinical model of NOD/SCID chimeric mice. Targeting MT1-MMP expression by SiRNA or blocking its function reduced the in-vitro chemotactic response to SDF-1 of human CD34+ progenitors via matrigel and impaired to a similar extent the BM homing capacity of transplanted human CD34+ cells in NOD/SCID mice. In accordance, neutralization of RECK function, thus abrogating RECK-mediated inhibition of MT1-MMP, facilitated SDF-1-induced migration of steady state human BM CD34+ cells in vitro. Furthermore, following G-CSF mobilization, we also observed a reduction in CD44 expression on human leukocytes and, specifically, on immature CD34+ progenitor cells in the BM of chimeric mice. This was accompanied by accumulation of CD44 cleaved products of molecular weights, expected for MT1-MMP activity, in the BM supernatants. In chimeric mice co-injected with MT1-MMP-neutralizing Ab, less cleavage of CD44 was detected upon G-CSF mobilization, whereas in the absence of a mobilizing signal, increasing MT1-MMP activity by anti RECK Ab injection facilitated CD44 proteolysis on the BM cells. Finally, MT1-MMP expression correlated with the number of CD34+ cells, collected on the first apheresis day in 29 consecutive patients with lymphoid malignancies and in 21 healthy donors treated with G-CSF. In conclusion, our results indicate that G-CSF inversely regulates MT1-MMP and RECK expression on CD34+ progenitors, resulting in net increase in MT1-MMP activity. MT1-MMP proteolysis of CD44 diminishes progenitor adhesion to BM components, leading to cell egress. These cell autonomous changes provide a previously undefined mechanism for G-CSF recruitment of CD34+ progenitors and might serve as target for new approaches to improve clinical stem cell mobilization.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.