Myeloid and erythroid differentiation defects and cytopenias are most commonly described in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), however, a reduction in B-cell progenitors exists. The genetic events contributing to this reduction are poorly understood.

Interstitial deletion or loss of one copy of the long arm of chromosome 5 (del5q) is the most common cytogenetic abnormality associated with MDS. Two commonly deleted regions on del(5q) have been described and no biallelic mutations have been identified implicating haploinsufficiency of genes on this interval as a driving mechanism. We, and others, have identified several del(5q) candidate genes, including RPS14, EGR1, CTNNA1, APC, NPM1, DIAPH1, miR145, miR146a, and HSPA9. Consistent with haploinsufficiency, HSPA9 mRNA levels are 50% reduced in del(5q) patients. We previously showed that knockdown of Hspa9by shRNA in a murine bone marrow transplant model resulted in a significant reduction in murine B-cells in the bone marrow, spleen and peripheral blood.

To further characterize the role of Hspa9 in hematopoiesis, we created Hspa9 heterozygous mice (Hspa9+/-). Heterozygotes express 50% less Hspa9 protein and are born at normal Mendelian frequencies (N>100). No significant differences in mature lineage markers, complete blood counts, and hematopoietic organ cellularity, have been identified up to 12 months of age. However, as early as 2 months of age, Hspa9+/- mice show a significant reduction in CFU-PreB colonies compared to their wild-type littermates, indicating B-cell progenitor defects (14 vs. 48 colonies/100,000 bone marrow cells plated, respectively, N=10 mice/genotype, p<0.001). Following long-term engraftment of transplanted bone marrow cells from Hspa9+/-or littermate controls into lethally irradiated recipients, we also observed a 5.8-fold reduction in bone marrow CFU-PreB colonies (N=7-9 mice/genotype, p=0.002), confirming the B-cell progenitor defect is hematopoietic cell-intrinsic.

Despite the reduction in CFU-PreB colony numbers, frequencies of freshly isolated early B-cell progenitor and precursor populations in the bone marrow and spleen of Hspa9+/- mice are not different than wild-type littermate controls when assessed by flow cytometry (common lymphoid progenitor, Hardy fractions A-F). We hypothesized that these mice were able to compensate for B-cell alterations caused by loss of Hspa9 in vivo. Consistent with our hypothesis, the reduction in CFU-PreB colony numbers was partially rescued by increasing the concentration of IL-7 in the media. Hspa9+/- colony numbers increased 1.8 fold when the IL-7 concentration was increased from 10ng/mL to 50ng/mL compared to 0.80 fold for wild-type littermates (p=0.03, N=6 mice/genotype). This effect was unique to IL-7. Adding increasing concentrations of Flt-3 ligand, another cytokine that contributes to early B-cell development, did not alter CFU-PreB colony formation. We isolated B220+ cells from Day 7 CFU-PreB cultures for gene expression array analysis and observe reduced expression of genes promoting B-cell proliferation and activation in Hspa9+/- compared to Hspa9+/+ cells.

Since IL-7 is the only supportive cytokine in the methylcellulose media, can partially rescue the reduced CFU-PreB phenotype, and is required for early B-cell development and survival, we hypothesized that Hspa9 haploinsufficiency inhibits transduction of IL-7 signaling. We tested this hypothesis using an IL-7 dependent mouse B-cell line (B7 cells; Ba/F3 cells that stably express the IL-7 receptor). Knockdown of Hspa9 by siRNAs resulted in a 8-fold reduction in cell number after 4 days in culture (p=0.004, confirmed with two independent siRNAs) and was associated with an increase in apoptosis and reduction in cells in S-phase of the cell cycle. Knockdown of Hspa9 in B7 cells resulted in reduced levels of phosphorylated Stat5, an immediate downstream target of IL-7 receptor stimulation, compared to cells treated with a non-targeting siRNA (measured at 5, 10, 15 and 30 minutes following 10ng/mL IL-7 stimulation, p≤0.03). Ongoing studies will further interrogate the effects of Hsap9 knockdown on Jak-Stat signaling.

Collectively, these data implicate that loss of HSPA9 alters IL-7 signaling, potentially contributing to the reduction of B-cell progenitors observed in patients with del(5q)-associated MDS.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.