Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) maintain the hematopoietic system throughout the lifetime of an organism. During embryonic development, HSCs emerge through an endothelial-to-hematopoietic transition (EHT) from specialized hemogenic endothelial (HE) cells in the dorsal aorta. HSC fate specification depends on gene expression, which is the culmination of coordinated transcription, RNA splicing, and translation. Although transcriptional regulation of HSC fate choice is well studied, the regulatory role of RNA splicing in this process is poorly understood. Using zebrafish loss-of-function mutants for the spliceosomal component splicing factor 3b, subunit 1 (sf3b1), we identified that impaired splicing hindered HSC production. Surprisingly, we found that this constitutive splicing factor selectively regulates the fate of hemogenic endothelium while leaving the identity of closely-related non-hemogenic endothelium unperturbed. To identify Sf3b1-regulated transcripts important in EHT, we performed RNA-sequencing on purified kdrl:gfp+ endothelial cells from sf3b1 mutant and wild-type siblings at 24 hpf. Approximately 900 genes were mis-spliced, 144 of which were differentially expressed. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis identified Janus Kinase (Jak)/Signaling Transducer and Activator of Transcription (Stat) signaling, in particular Stat3, as one of the top perturbed pathways in the mis-spliced gene set. Stat3 is a transcription factor activated in response to several cytokine and inflammatory signals. To determine if altered splicing of stat3 was critical for HSC formation, we injected antisense splice-blocking morpholinos (MO) targeting the Sf3b1-sensitive stat3 exon19 into wild-type and sf3b1 heterozygous embryos, which normally generate equivalent levels of HSCs. We observed an impairment of HSC production in stat3 morpholino-injected sf3b1 heterozygotes, but not wild-type siblings, indicating a synthetic lethal interaction between sf3b1 and stat3. We also found that overexpression of a constitutively active form of Stat3 significantly suppressed the HSC defects in sf3b1 homozygous mutants. Together, these data indicate that Sf3b1-mediated splicing regulation of the Jak/Stat pathway is critical for HSC emergence.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.