Some fibroblast growth factor (FGF)/FGF receptor (FGFR) systems, namely FGF1 and FGF2 which are produced mainly by megakaryocytes, and their cognate receptors expressed on either hematopoietic stem or progenitor cells (HSPCs) or bone marrow (BM) stromal cells, are reported to support HSPCs under stressed conditions. In this study, we show that mesenchymal cell-derived FGF7 (also called keratinocyte growth factor or KGF) may be a novel niche factor for HSPC support and niche-dependent leukemia-initiating cell growth. We previously reported that mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) have characteristics that mimic BM stromal cells and possess an ability of HSPCs support in vitro, and that this ability is profoundly attenuated in MEFs deficient for the MED1 subunit of the Mediator transcriptional master coregulator complex, subcomplex of RNA polymerase II holoenzyme. We found through the microarray analyses that the FGF7 expression (both at mRNA and protein levels) was specifically and profoundly attenuated in Med1-/- MEFs compared with Med1+/+ MEFs. When normal mouse BM cells were cocultured with mitomycin C-treated Med1+/+ MEFs or BM stromal cells (OP-9 or MS-5) in the presence of anti-FGF7 antibody, the DNA synthesis and resultant growth of BM cells, and the number of long-term culture-initiating cells (LTC-ICs), were significantly suppressed. However, the addition of anti-FGF7 antibody did not enhance cell death in BM cells. In contrast, the addition of recombinant FGF7 to the coculture of BM cells with mitomycin C-treated Med1-/- MEFs robustly upregulated the DNA synthesis and growth of BM cells, and the number of LTC-ICs. The Ph+ myeloblastoma cells MB-1, originally isolated from a patient with blast crisis chronic myeloid leukemia, is niche-dependent myeloblastic cells that require mesenchymal stromal cells for survival and growth. During coculture typically with OP-9 BM stromal cells, these MB-1 cells form cobblestone areas, which most probably reconstitute a stochastic model of leukemic stem or initiating cells in vitro. We next analyzed the role of FGF7 in support of MB-1 cells for growth and survival during coculture. Indeed, the addition of anti-FGF7 antibody to the coculture with mitomycin C-treated BM stromal cells (either OP-9 or MS-5) substantially attenuated DNA synthesis and resultant proliferation of stromal cell-dependent myeloblastoma cells MB1. Notably, cobblestone formation (i.e., signature of stem cell phenotype) of MB-1 cells was significantly attenuated when anti-FGF7 antibody was added to the coculture with OP-9 cells. However, the addition of anti-FGF7 antibody did not elicit cell death of MB-1 cells. Thus, FGF7 appears to promote both proliferation and maintenance of leukemia stem or initiating cell feature of MB-1 cells. While neither FGF7 nor its cognate receptor FGFR2IIIb mRNAs were detectable in BM cells, the mesenchymal cells including Med1+/+ MEFs and (OP-9 and MS-5) BM stromal cells expressed them. The expression levels of FGFR2IIIb were comparable between Med1+/+ and Med1-/- MEFs, and BM stromal cells. Therefore, we hypothesized that FGFR2IIIb on these mesenchymal stromal cells might be functional and possibly elicit secretion of niche signal(s) secondarily in response to the downstream target gene(s) of FGFR2IIIb, followed by subsequent support of HSPCs and leukemic cells. To prove that FGF7 is functional in these cells, we examined response of the downstream targets of FGFR2IIIb in these cells, including phosphorylation of FRS2 (the immediate downstream target of FGFR2IIIb tyrosine kinase), phosphorylation of MAP kinases (the intermediate hub of various intracellular signals), and mRNA expression of immediate early response genes including c-Jun, c-Fos and c-Myc. Indeed, exogenously added recombinant FGF7 elicited phosphorylation of both FRS2 and MAP kinases within 10 min, and full induction of these immediate early response genes within 30 min, similarly in both Med1+/+ and Med1-/- MEFs. The OP-9 and MS-5 BM stromal cells also exhibited similar responses to exogenously added FGF7. These results indicate that FGFR2IIIb expressed on mesenchymal stromal cells are functional, and that FGF7 and FGFR2IIIb produced by these cells constitute an autocrine (or paracrine) loop. Taken together, we propose that FGF7 produced by BM stromal cells supports HSPCs and leukemic progenitor cells indirectly via FGFR2IIIb expressed on the BM stromal cells.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.