Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are toxic byproducts of oxidative metabolism implicated in many debilitating human disorders including hematological malignancies and aging. ROS are also generated by growth factors and cytokine stimulation and play critical functions in normal cellular signaling. However, not much is known of how ROS impact physiological processes in normal and diseased states. We and others have recently shown critical functions for box (O) family of forkhead transcription factors (Fox)O in the regulation of physiological ROS in primitive hematopoietic cells. In particular, FoxO3 has emerged as the principal FoxO whose regulation of ROS is essential for the maintenance of hematopoietic stem cell pool. Although FoxO3’s activity is constitutively repressed by several oncoproteins that play critical roles in myeloproliferative disorders the role of FoxO3 in the regulation of primitive hematopoietic progenitors remains elusive. FoxO’s function is restrained by AKT serine threonine protein kinase. AKT supports growth, survival and proliferation by promoting inhibition of FoxO and activation of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and its downstream target p70 S6 Kinase (S6K) through phosphorylation. We demonstrate that loss of FoxO3 leads to a myeloproliferative-like syndrome characterized by leukocytosis, splenomegaly, enhanced generation of primitive progenitors including colony-forming-unit-spleen (CFU-S) in hematopoietic organs and hypersensitivity of hematopoietic progenitor cells to cytokines in FoxO3 null mice. These findings were intriguing since we had not found FoxO3 null hematopoietic stem cells to exhibit enhanced cycling in vivo or to generate excessive hematopoietic progenitors ex vivo (Yalcin et al., JBC, 2008). To investigate the mechanism of enhanced myeloproliferation, we interrogated cytokine-mediated activation of signaling pathways in freshly isolated FoxO3 null versus wild type bone marrow cells enriched for hematopoietic progenitors. To our surprise we found that stimulation with cytokines including IL-3 led to hyperphosphorylation of AKT, mTOR and S6K but not STAT5 proteins in FoxO3 null as compared to wild type cytokine-starved hematopoietic progenitors. In agreement with these results, in vivo administration of the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin resulted in significant reduction of FoxO3 null- but not wild type-derived CFU-Sd12 in lethally irradiated hosts. These unexpected results suggested that AKT/mTOR signaling pathway is specifically overactivated as part of a feedback loop mechanism and mediates enhanced generation of FoxO3 null primitive multipotential hematopoietic progenitors in vivo. We further showed that phosphorylation of AKT/mTOR/S6K is highly sensitive to ROS scavenger N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) in vivo and ex vivo in both wild type and FoxO3 null primitive hematopoietic progenitors indicating that ROS are involved in cytokine signaling in primary hematopoietic progenitor cells. Interestingly, in vivo administration of NAC normalized the number of FoxO3 null-derived CFU-Sd12 in lethally irradiated hosts without any impact on wild type CFU-Sd12 strongly suggesting that ROS mediate specifically enhanced generation of primitive hematopoietic progenitors in FoxO3 null mice. In this context, we were surprised to find similar levels of ROS concentrations in FoxO3 mutant as compared to control hematopoietic progenitors. Thus, we asked whether the increase in FoxO3 null primitive hematopoietic progenitor compartment is due to an increase sensitivity of cytokine signaling to ROS as opposed to increased ROS build up per se in these cells. In search for a mechanism we found the expression of Lnk, a negative regulator of cytokine signaling, to be highly reduced in FoxO3 null primitive hematopoietic progenitor cells. We further demonstrated that retroviral reintroduction of Lnk but not vector control in FoxO3 null primitive bone marrow cells reduced significantly the number of FoxO3 null-derived CFU-Sd12in vivo. Collectively, these results suggest that reduced expression of Lnk hypersensitizes FoxO3-deficient hematopoietic progenitors to ROS generated by cytokine signaling leading to myeloproliferation. These cumulative findings uncover a mechanism by which deregulation of cellular sensitivity to physiological ROS leads to hematopoietic malignancies specifically in disorders in which FoxO play a role.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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