Given their critical role in the generation and renewal of the hematopoietic system, we hypothesize that hematopoietic stem and primitive cells employ unusually stringent DNA damage responses to maintain genome stability. We also propose that Fanconi anemia proteins prevent bone marrow failure through their participation in these DNA repair and damage response pathways. We are testing both hypotheses by characterizing cellular responses to DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in 3 lineage-negative populations of hematopoietic cells isolated from human umbilical cord blood: hematopoietic stem cell-containing primitive CD34+ CD38 CD45RA, early progenitor CD34+ CD38+ and late progenitor CD34 CD38+.

Two key events in the initial cellular response to DSBs are phosphorylation of H2AX histones in chromatin at or near DSBs, and association of 53BP1 with gamma-H2AX at DSB sites. Once DSBs are detected, they then are repaired by two major pathways: error-prone non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ), utilized throughout the cell cycle, and error-free homologous recombination (HR), used when sister chromatids are present during S/G2 phases of the cell cycle.

To study the response to and repair of DSBs in our sorted hematopoietic populations, we exposed quiescent and cytokine-stimulated haematopoietic cells and human fibroblasts to ionizing radiation (IR). Irradiation with 3 Gy rapidly induced formation of 53BP1 foci in all cell types, both cycling and non-cycling. In contrast, X-irradiation only induced foci of the Fanconi anemia protein FANCD2 in cycling cells. The majority of the induced FANCD2 foci colocalized with foci of gamma-H2AX.

The subsequent persistence of 53BP1 foci at X-ray induced damage sites differed significantly between the lin hematopoietic cells and the fibroblasts. During the first 6 hours following IR, cycling primitive and progenitor hematopoietic cells resolved 53BP1 foci more slowly than cycling human primary fibroblasts. In addition, X-ray induced 53BP1 foci persisted even longer in quiescent primitive CD34+ CD38 and early progenitor CD34+ CD38+ cells than in their cycling counterparts, while foci resolution kinetics were similar in quiescent and cycling late progenitor CD34 CD38+ cells and in fibroblasts. We also used a neutral comet assay to determine the kinetics of DSB rejoining following exposure to 15 Gy. We found that resolution of 53BP1 foci is not directly linked to rejoining of DSBs in lin− hematopoietic cells, as they rejoin DSBs more rapidly than primary fibroblasts, yet resolve 53BP1 foci more slowly. The effect is most prominent in primitive CD34 CD38 cells. Both cycling and non-cycling fibroblasts displayed similar kinetics of DSB rejoining. However, quiescent lin hematopoietic cells displayed persistent breaks compared to cycling counterparts or to fibroblasts. Of particular note, quiescent lin hematopoietic cells still had not rejoined a significant fraction of induced DSBs 24 hours post irradiation.

Our results indicate that human primitive and progenitor hematopoetic cells differ from fibroblasts in their DNA damage responses and DSB repair kinetics. Our findings also suggest that, unlike fibroblasts, progression through the cell cycle plays a key role in the rapid repair of DSBs in hematopoietic cells. Because Lin hematopoietic cells are more efficient at rejoining DSBs when cycling, we suggest that error-free HR repair plays an important role in DSB repair in these cells. Our detection of DNA damage-induced FANCD2 foci only in cycling lin hematopoietic cells provides indirect support for this conclusion, as FA proteins are thought to be involved in HR repair. We are currently testing this hypothesis by determining the effect of knocking down FA protein expression on DSB repair and DNA damage responses in our three hematopoietic populations.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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