During ontogeny, definitive hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSC) are thought to arise from vascular endothelial cells, through an endothelial-to-hematopoietic transition, a natural process that occurs in unique, specialized embryonic hemogenic endothelial cells. Developmental studies, and experiments using pluripotent stem cells in an effort to recapitulate this process and thereby gain a better understanding of the emergence of definitive hematopoiesis, have collectively led to the prevailing view that the hemogenic endothelium constitutes a transient population of cells within the embryo that rapidly disappears during development and is absent in the adult. Herein, we provide the first evidence that at early time points of gestation, prior to the establishment of hematopoiesis, a unique subpopulation of Stro-1+ cells present within the inner part of the developing human bone marrow co-expresses APLNR, a marker of angiogenic mesoderm. Moreover, these Stro-1+APLNR+ cells express multiple other markers described for hemogenic endothelium, and subsequently contribute to the vasculature, cartilage, and bone. Importantly, we also show that cells expressing these same markers of primitive mesoderm/hemogenic endothelium persist at low frequency within the adult marrow. These adult-derived cells can be extensively expanded in vitro without loss of potential, but lack hematopoietic colony-forming potential in vitro. However, upon transplantation into a fetal microenvironment, clonally-derived populations of these adult Stro1+ isolated stromal progenitors (SIPs) not only contribute to the vasculature and nascent BM niches, but also efficiently generate, at a clonal level, hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) that are capable of robust, multilineage hematopoietic reconstitution, with generation of both myeloid and lymphoid cells upon serial transplantation. In conclusion, our studies have thus uncovered the latent potential of a highly expandable population of seemingly vestigial adult human somatic cells, whose ontogenic history includes a phenotype identical to that described for hemogenic endothelium. We have also shown that, if provided with the appropriate/necessary inductive factors, these unique adult cells are capable of giving rise to hematopoietic cells that fulfill the gold standard criteria for bona fide HSC. Therefore, these cells could potentially be more amenable to reprogramming technologies, to produce HSC that could be used to treat/cure a broad variety of blood diseases.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.