Within the erythroid lineage, erythropoietin (EPO) responsiveness is manifested by cell division and growth as well as specific changes in heme and globin production that ultimately result in the production of erythrocytes. However, the nascent relationship between EPO-associated mitosis and globin gene regulation has not been fully defined. In this study, cultured adult human CD34+ cells from peripheral blood were used to investigate early cellular responses to erythropoietin in the context of mitosis. Matched cultures were performed in replicate using human cells from at least two healthy adults. To detect mitosis, one million cells were labeled with 2uM carboxyfluorescein diacetate succinamidyl ester (CFSE). The CFSE-labeled cells were then cultured in the presence [EPO(+)] or absence [EPO(−)] of 4U/mL EPO, and analyzed using flow cytometry. No cell divisions were detected in either condition during the first 24 hours in culture, and multiple cell divisions were noted on subsequent culture days only in the EPO(+) cultures. Remarkably, dual-staining with CFSE and CD71 revealed a small (<1%) population of the undivided cells at 24 hours with very high surface levels of transferrin receptor [CD71(++++)] exclusively in the EPO(+) cultures. Further analysis of those rare EPO-responsive, pre-mitotic cells revealed DNA synthesis and entry into the cell cycle in 62.5±4.7% compared with 1.5±1.8% among the cells with lower CD71 expression. None expressed glycophorin A. Based upon their distinct phenotype, single cells were sorted into 96-well plates, with sorting confirmation by quantitative RT-PCR of GAPDH mRNA (20 copies/cell detection limit). Next, gamma- and beta-globin transcripts were amplified for comparison (4 separate experiments). Among the pre-mitotic, CD71(++++) population, 20 of 182 total sorted cells (11%) lacked detectable levels of gamma- and beta-globin mRNA. Only 1 of 182 cells (0.5%) expressed gamma-globin mRNA and no detectable beta globin mRNA. 138 of 182 cells (76%) expressed only beta-globin mRNA, and 23 of 182 cells (13%) expressed both globin mRNAs. The median and mean levels of gamma-globin mRNA among the 24 gamma(+) cells were 92 and 245±1015 copies/cell respectively. In contrast, the median and mean levels of beta-globin mRNA among the 161 beta(+) cells were 1624 and 3999±5892 copies/cell respectively. By comparison, the CD34+ cells with low levels of surface CD71 in either EPO(+) or EPO(−) cultures demonstrated detectable levels of gamma globin mRNA in only 7 of 145 sorted cells (5%), and beta-globin mRNA in 85 of 145 cells (59%), with total (gamma+beta) globin mRNA under 200 copies/cell in >90% of those cells. These novel results suggest that the frequency and levels of gamma-globin transcripts are quite low at the earliest stages of an EPO response among adult human CD34+ cells. However, it is clearly demonstrated that the cells can increase their capacity to import iron and transcribe beta-globin mRNA at very high levels prior to their first EPO-dependent cell division.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.