Orexin receptors play a role in regulation of sleep-wake-rhythm, food intake and energy homeostasis and they were long thought to be exclusively expressed in the nervous system. During the last years orexin receptors are being identified in a growing number of peripheral tissues. We have earlier detected orexin receptor 1 and 2 expression on human CD34+ blood stem and progenitor cells. Still, the sources of their physiological ligands, the peptides orexin A and B, seem to be restricted to the central nerve system to this date. The main downstream signaling pathways of the orexin receptors include Ca2+-dependent signaling associated with activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and extracellular signal-related kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) pathways. In an attempt to investigate if the receptors are functionally active in CD34+ stem and progenitor cells, we used live cell calcium imaging and stimulated purified CD34+ stem and progenitor cells with orexin A and B. Upon stimulation a massive intracellular calcium release was seen which could not been detected using cells preincubated with the Ca2+ chelator 1,2-bis(2-aminophenoxy) ethane-N,N,N′,N′-tetraacetic acid (BAPTA) or the selective OX1R-Antagonist SB334867 and CD34 negative cells. Additionally, upon stimulation with orexin A and B we found ERK (1/2) activation at a maximum 3 hours following incubation with orexin A whereas no effect was seen after stimulation with orexin B. To investigate a potential impact on the functional properties of human CD34+ cells we performed proliferation and apoptosis assays, migration and adhesion assays as well as colony forming and long-term culture assays. So far, no effects of orexin stimulation on the proliferation and apoptosis of CD34+ cells were apparent. Remarkably, stimulation with orexin A and B led to a significantly higher proportion of early pluripotent hematopoietic progenitor (CFU-GEMM) colonies and a significant reduction of erythroid precursors BFU-E (burst forming unit erythrocyte) and CFU-E (colony forming unit erythrocyte). A more immature phenotype of orexin-stimulated CD34+ cells is also reflected by array-based gene expression profiling. Long-term culture assays revealed a significantly higher frequency of LTC-IC (long-term-culture initiating cells) indicating also a more immature phenotype of orexin-stimulated cells and a greater repopulating capacity. The selective orexin receptor antagonist SB-334867 abrogated these effects. No differences could be observed regarding the migration towards SDF-1 with and without stimulation with orexin A and B. Still, orexin A and B led to a decrease in the adhesive capacity of CD34+ stem and progenitor cells to fibronectin coated dishes. Since orexin receptors are coupled to inhibitory G-proteins (Gi/q) and stimulatory G-proteins (Gs) dependent on the tissue, we incubated CD34+ cells with the selective inhibitor of Gi – proteins pertussis toxin concurrently to stimulation with orexins and observed no differences in the adhesive capacity of CD34+ cells compared to the unstimulated controls suggesting coupling of the orexin receptor 1 and 2 to Gi – proteins rather than Gs-proteins in CD34+ cells. Given this functional impact of the orexin system on CD34+ cells, we asked if orexins are secreted locally in the bone marrow or autocrine by CD34+ cells or if they are humorally transported to the bone marrow cavity. Using ELISA we did not find autocrine production of orexin by CD34+ cells whereas orexin could be detected in the serum obtained by bone marrow biopsies and peripheral blood pointing rather towards a humoral delivery of orexins to CD34+ cells. Taken together, our findings indicate a functional role of the orexin system in CD34+ stem and progenitor cells.

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