Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are a self-renewing population of bone marrow cells that give rise to all of the cellular elements of the blood and retain enormous proliferative potential in vivo. We have a growing understanding that the controls on HSC proliferation are tied in part to regulation by the immune system—specifically, that HSC proliferation and mobilization can be stimulated by the immune cytokines interferon-alpha and interferon-gamma (IFNg). Our previous work has demonstrated that HSC quiescence and function are aberrant in mice lacking the immunity-related GTPase Irgm1 (also Lrg47). Indeed, the bone marrow of Irgm1-deficient animals at baseline mimics the bone marrow of wild type animals that have been stimulated with IFNg. We hypothesized that the HSC defects in Irgm1-deficient animals are due to overabundant IFNg signaling, and that Irgm1 normally serves to dampen the stimulatory effects of IFNg on HSCs. To test this hypothesis, we used RNA expression profiling to compare gene expression in wild type versus Irgm1-deficient mice. We found that interferon-dependent signaling is globally upregulated in the HSCs of Irgm1-deficient mice. Next we generated Irgm1-/-IFNgR1-/- and Irgm1-/-Stat1-/- double knock out animals. In contrast to the phenotype of Irgm1 single knock out mutants, the hyperproliferation and self-renewal defects in HSCs were both rescued in the double knock out animals, indicating that IFNg signaling is required for manifestation of the Irgm1-deficient phenotype. Futhermore, we found that Irgm1 is expressed in HSCs in a Stat1- and IFNgR-dependent fashion, suggesting that it forms a negative feedback loop for IFNg signaling in the HSC population. Collectively, our results indicate that Irgm1 is a powerful negative regulator of IFNg-dependent stimulation in HSCs. These findings demonstrate that IFNg provides a significant stimulus for HSC proliferation even in the absence of infection, and that IFNg-dependent signaling must be tightly regulated to preserve HSC self-renewal capacity. This study provides evidence that the Irgm1 protein can serve as a link between immunity and regulation of hematopoiesis at the level of the stem cell. We speculate that utilization of Irgm1 for its immune functions may detract from its ability to regulate HSC self-renewal capacity, thus ultimately contributing to myelosuppression and increased risk of death from chronic infections such as tuberculosis.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.