The Notch pathway regulates a broad range of biological mechanisms including proliferation, border formation and cell fate decisions. In the hematopoietic system, Notch signaling is generally thought to specify T cell lineage fate at the expense of the B cell whereas its role in the myeloid lineage development is unclear. When using heterotypic co-cultures of murine primary hematopoietic stem cells (HSC: Lin-Sca1+Kit+) with OP9 stromal cells, or OP9 cells expressing the Notch ligand Delta1 (OP9-DL1), we unexpectedly observed the development of large cells with cytoplasmic protrusions reminiscent of proplatelet production by megakaryocytes on OP9-DL1 stroma. These cells stained positive for acetylcholinesterase, specific for megakaryocyte, and displayed large polylobated nuclei. Flow cytometric analysis indicated a 10-fold increase in the number of CD41+ cells in OP9-DL1 co-cultures compared to parental OP9 co-cultures. Expression of a constitutively active intra-cellular Notch (ICN) mutant allowed differentiation of HSC into CD41+ cells in parental OP9 co-cultures without DL1 stimulation, whereas expression of a dominant-negative MAML1 (dnMAML1) mutant abrogated this effect in OP9-DL1 co-cultures. In addition, megakaryocyte differentiation in OP9-DL1 co-cultures was blocked by γ-secretase inhibitors treatment and rescued by ectopic expression of ICN. Global gene expression analysis demonstrated engagement of a megakaryopoietic transcriptional program when HSC were co-cultured with OP9-DL1 vs. OP9 stroma or OP9-DL1 stroma treated with γ-secretase inhibitor. Bone marrow transplantation experiments with ICN, resulted in enhanced megakaryopoiesis in vivo with increased MEP numbers and megakaryocyte colony formation. Furthermore, transplantation of bone marrow cells transduced with dnMAML1 significantly impaired megakaryopoiesis in vivo with a 4- to 7-fold decrease in maturing megakaryocytes. These findings demonstrate a positive regulatory role for Notch signaling in specification of megakaryocyte development, and indicate that Notch plays a complex role in cell fate decisions among myeloid progenitors. They suggest the possibility that inhibition of Notch signaling may have therapeutic potential in malignancies of the megakaryocytic lineage. Furthermore, Notch pathway stimulation could be of value in enhancing megakaryocyte growth in clinical contexts associated with severe thrombocytopenia, such as hematopoietic reconstitution following bone marrow transplantation or chemotherapy.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.