Reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been implicated in the regulation of stemness of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). HSC with long-term repopulating capabilities are characterized by low ROS levels, whereas increased ROS levels correlate with lineage specification and differentiation. Several tightly regulated sources of ROS production are well known among which are the NADPH oxidases (Nox). HSC are known to express Nox1, Nox2 and Nox4, however, their role in maintenance of stem cell potential or in the activation of differentiation programs are poorly understood. While Nox2 is activated in response to various extrinsic and intrinsic stimuli, mainly during infection and inflammation, Nox4 is constitutively active and is considered to be responsible for steady-state ROS production. Consequently, Nox4 deficiency might lower ROS levels at steady-state hematopoiesis and thereby could have an impact on HSC physiology. In this work we studied HSC homeostasis in Nox4 knock-out mice.

Analysis of the hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC) pool in the bone marrow (BM) revealed no significant differences in the levels of Lineage marker negative (Lin-) Sca-1+ ckit+ (LSK) and LSK-SLAM (LSK CD150+ CD48-) cells in Nox4 deficient mice compared to wild type (WT) C57BL/6J mice. HSPC frequency upon primary and secondary BM transplantation was comparable between Nox4 deficient and WT mice. In addition, the frequency of colony forming cells in the BM under steady-state conditions did not differ between both mouse groups. However, Nox4 deficient mice possess more functional HSCs as observed in in vivo competitive repopulating unit (CRU) assays. Lin- cells derived from Nox4 knock out (KO) mice showed an increased CRU frequency and superior multilineage engraftment upon secondary transplantation. Surprisingly, ROS levels in different HSPC subsets of NOX4 KO mice were comparable to WT cells, implying that the absence of Nox4 in HSCs does not have a major intrinsic impact on HSC physiology via ROS. Therefore, the increased levels of functional HSCs observed in our studies may suggest a contribution of the BM microenvironment to steady-state hematopoiesis in the BM of Nox4 KO animals.

Recent observations suggest a regulation of the BM stem cell pool by BM endothelial cells, in particular by the permeability state of the blood-bone marrow-barrier (Itkin T et al., ASH Annual Meeting Abstracts, 2012). Endothelial cells interact with HSCs predominantly via paracrine effects and control stem cell retention, egress and homing as well as stem cell activation. As Nox4 is highly expressed in endothelial cells and is involved in angiogenesis, we reasoned that the absence of NOX4 could affect HSC homeostasis through altered BM endothelium properties and barrier permeability state.

Indeed, in preliminary assays we found reduced short-term homing of BM mononuclear cells into the BM of Nox4 deficient mice as compared to wild type hosts. Furthermore, in vivo administration of Evans Blue dye revealed reduced dye penetration into Nox4-/- BM compared to wild type mice upon intravenous injection. Taken together, these data indicate a reduced endothelial permeability in Nox4 KO mice. Ongoing experiments aim at further characterization of the Nox4-/- phenotype in BM sinusoidal and arteriolar endothelial cells, the impact of Nox4 deletion on BM hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells, and in deciphering the role of Nox4 in the bone marrow microenvironment.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.