The molecular basis for the divergence of the erythroid (red blood cell) and megakaryocyte (platelet) lineages from a common bipotent MEP (megakaryocyte-erythroid progenitor) remains undefined. We now demonstrate that Rgs18 (regulator of G protein signaling 18), a GAP (GTPase activating protein) factor and a transcriptional gene target of the Gfi1b transcriptional repressor complex, likely arbitrates this critical lineage decision downstream of Gfi1b. Rgs18 was identified in a chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP on chip) screen for Gfi1b/LSD1/Rcor1 targets in erythroid cells. Accordingly, Rgs18 expression was found to be up-regulated in LSD1 inhibited, and Gfi1b deficient erythroid cells confirming repression of this gene by Gfi1b and its co-factors in this lineage. In contrast, Rgs18 expression was comparable in megakaryocytic cells derived from wild type and gfi1b-/-hematopoietic progenitors indicating Gfi1b independent expression of Rgs18 in these cells. Manipulation of Rgs18 expression produced opposite effects in the erythroid and megakaryocytic lineages. Rgs18 inhibition retarded megakaryocytic differentiation while its ectopic over-expression promoted differentiation at the expense of proliferation. The reverse was observed in erythroid cells where Rgs18 inhibition produced an enhancement of differentiation while over-expression impaired erythropoiesis.

Since Rgs signaling regulates the activity of downstream MAPK pathways we determined the status of these pathways in Rgs18 manipulated cells. Inhibition of Rgs18 stimulated ERK phosphorylation in megakaryocytes but diminished it in erythroid cells. In contrast, Rgs18 inhibition in erythroid cells elevated p38MAPK protein and phosphorylation levels. The opposite effects of Rgs18 manipulation on MAPK signaling in erythroid versus megakaryocytic cells while intriguing are consistent with the changes in differentiation and proliferation observed in each lineage, respectively.

Although Rgs18 manipulation produced opposite effects in erythroid and megakaryocytic cells, the level and activity of this factor correlated similarly with those of the mutually antagonistic transcription factors Fli1 (Friend leukemia integration [site] 1) and KLF1/EKLF (Kruppel like factor1) in both cell types. In both lineages, Rgs18 protein levels correlated directly with Fli1, and inversely with KLF1, message levels. Since Fli1 promotes megakaryocytic, and KLF1 erythroid, development; these results demonstrate that Rgs18 promotes the emergence of megakaryocytic cells from bipotent MEPs by modulating MAPK signaling and altering Fli1/KLF1 stoichiometries. Although it is unclear why Gfi1b mediated repression of Rgs18 is erythroid specific even though the former is expressed in both lineages, these results demonstrate that repression of Rgs18 by Gfi1b in fetal liver MEPs limits megakaryopoiesis and augments erythropoiesis. However following megakaryocytic commitment, robust Gfi1b independent expression of Rgs18 drives differentiation of this lineage while continued repression of Rgs18 by Gfi1b in erythroid cells ensures their proper maturation.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.