Hematopoiesis is sustained by a pool of multipotent hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) that have the capacity to differentiate into cells of all blood cell lineages. The pool of long-lived HSCs is maintained throughout life by the self-renewal ability of HSCs. New evidence suggests the process of alternative splicing is an important regulator of the maturation and activation of blood and immune effector cells. It is presently estimated that almost all multi-exon genes in human genome undergo alternative pre-mRNA splicing, and aberrant splicing has been linked to a variety of human pathologies. However, the role that pre-mRNA splicing may have for HSCs behaviour remains largely unexplored. Heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein L (hnRNPL) is an RNA-binding protein that regulates alternative splicing by binding exonic splicing silencers elements (ESS) resulting in exon exclusion from the mature mRNA. RT-PCR analyses showed that hnRNPL is expressed in early stages of hematopoiesis including HSCs and lineage restricted hematopoietic progenitors. To test the role of hnRNPL in hematopoietic differentiation, we have generated conditional deficient mice, since a constitutive deletion of hnRNPL results in early embryonic lethality. Animals carrying two hnRNPL-floxed alleles (hnRNPLfl/fl) can be deleted at adult stage by the pIpC inducible MxCre transgene or by the VavCre transgene, which is expressed in all hematopoietic cells starting at embryonic stage E14. VavCre+hnRNPLfl/fl mice were not viable and did not progress further in their development than embryonic stage E17.5 and ablation of hnRNPL by pIpC injection caused a high rate of mortality in adult MxCre+hnRNPLfl/fl mice compared to control animals. Both the fetal liver (FL) of VavCre+hnRNPLfl/fl mice and the bone marrow (BM) of adult MxCre+hnRNPLfl/fl mice had a significantly reduced cellularity. Furthermore, flow cytometric analysis revealed in both FL and BM a significant reduction in frequency and absolute numbers of all mature blood cells, the lymphoid and myeloid precursors, CLPS, CMPs and GMPs and to a lesser extent the erythroid/megakaryocytic precursors (MEPs). Methylcellulose and both competitive and non-competitive transplantation assays demonstrated that HSCs lacking hnRNPL cannot generate lineage-committed progenitors and have lost their self-renewal capacity and reconstitution potential.

A genome-wide analysis of mRNA expression and splicing through next-generation RNA sequencing of wild-type (WT) or VavCre+hnRNPLfl/fl E14.5 Lin- c-kit+ fetal liver cells (FLCs) revealed that hnRNPL deficiency affects not only alternative splicing but also gene expression levels in hematopoietic progenitors. In the absence of hnRNPL, genes implicated in regulating apoptosis, DNA damage response and cell division where found up-regulated in Lin- c-kit+ FLCs. Among those genes, many were p53 effector genes such as Cdkn1a, Ccng1, Trp53inp1, TrailR2, Bax and Zmat3. In addition genes that are known to be required for normal hematopoiesis and HSCs functions such as Gfi1, CD34, Csfr1, Egr1 and Runx1 were found down-regulated in those cells. Further analyses by qPCR and Western blots confirmed those findings and also showed that the level of p53 protein expression was upregulated in VavCre+hnRNPLfl/fl FLCs although the mRNA level is the same as in the WT cells suggesting that hnRNPL affects p53 mRNA translation efficiency. Similarly, several genes found differentially spliced are implicated in cell cycle progression or required for normal hematopoiesis in FL such as Bcl11a, Cdk4, Ccnd2 and TRP53bp1. These results together with an increased level of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and elevated levels of phosphorylated histone H2AX (γ-H2AX, a sensor for double strand DNA breaks) suggest that hnRNPL regulates the activation of a p53 dependent DNA damage response pathway in hematopoietic stem cells. As a consequence loss of hnRNPL results in a loss of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. Our data also suggest that hnRNPL does not only regulate alternative splicing but also expression levels of a set of specific effector genes involved in HSC survival, proliferation, ultimately affecting self-renewal.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.