Introduction: Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) can occur in young people but it is mainly a disease of the elderly with a dramatic increase of incidence in the decades above 60 years. Accordingly, the factor age may be an important gateway to the understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of MDS. Insights into the molecular changes of aging hematopoiesis in healthy organisms have found molecular changes, which often parallel the observations in MDS such as increase of clonality with age, change of epigenetic profiles, skewed lineage commitment toward the myeloid compartment and reduced regenerative capacity after stress. The development of MDS is often suggestive of an accelerated extrapolation of molecular changes, which also occur in normal aging hematopoiesis. Beyond this, increasing evidence is suggesting that MDS hematopoiesis is highly dependent on support of the bone marrow (BM) stroma, which has been shown to display aberrant transcriptomic profiles as compared to healthy BM stroma. To this end, we aimed to test the hypothesis whether the emergence of MDS may be associated with a continuity of molecular changes in BM stroma cells during aging. Therefore, we performed explorative RNA sequencing in a set of MSCs collected from healthy young, healthy old and patients with MDS with a highly standardized pre-analytical work-up algorithm.

Methods: We collected BM samples from voluntary healthy young adults (age = 24 - 25 years, female n=3, male n=3), healthy old adults (age 66 - 79 years, female n=3, male n=3) and patients with very low - intermediate risk MDS (age 51 - 87 years, female n=3, male n=3). After isolation of BM mononuclear cells by Ficoll gradient centrifugation, 5x106 mononuclear BM cells were seeded into 25cm² flasks and cultured using StemMACS human MSC Expansion Media (Miltenyi Biotec) with weekly media exchange to select for MSCs. These were expanded and harvested in passage 2. Absence of residual hematopoietic cells was controlled by FACS with anti CD45, CD31, and CD146. Whole transcriptome RNA-sequencing on all samples was carried out from 150ng of high quality RNA using the TruSeq stranded total RNA protocol and 100bp paired end sequencing (Illumina). The bio-informatical pipeline consisted of mapping using hisat2 and cufflinks for calculation of differentially expressed genes.

Results: RNA-sequencing generated a mean of 94 million reads per sample. Between the groups "healthy young" and "healthy old" 331 differentially regulated genes were identified. Between "healthy old" and "MDS" 514 genes were differentially regulated (fold change > 1.5, false discovery rate, FDR < 0.05). Among these, 197 genes were differently expressed between all three groups. With these parameters, a total of 17 genes showed a continuous and significant increase of expression from healthy young over healthy old toward MDS. Among these were Kit ligand (KITLG) but also a cluster of membrane based cell adhesion molecules such as Cadherin-6 (CDH6), Laminin Subunit Alpha 2 (LAMA2) and Laminin Subunit Gamma 2 (LAMC2) and others. Conversely, 5 genes showed a continuous and significant decrease of expression from healthy young over healthy old toward MDS, among these Leukocyte-specific protein 1 (LSP1), a gene implicated in regulation of T-cell migration. Gene set enrichment analysis revealed that MDS MSCs exhibited a significant depletion of genes involved in early adipogenic differentiation and enrichment of gene sets associated with extracellular matrix remodeling (FDR < 0.05, normalized enrichment score > 1.7). Although cells were cultured under normoxic conditions, MDS-MSCs displayed marked intrinsic feature of hypoxia.

Conclusion: By integrating transcriptomic data from BM stroma cells from healthy individuals during aging and comparison to BM stroma cells from MDS patients we have identified gene sets that are significantly differentially expressed per continuitatem. On the background of the hypothesis that molecular changes in the microenvironment of MDS are an exacerbation of changes also taking place during normal aging in the bone marrow, these genes, which are accumulated in the context of extracellular matrix and cell adhesion are promising candidates to further elucidate a BM stroma based pathogenesis of MDS.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.