Hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) differentiation is accompanied by a metabolic shift from glycolysis to oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) to meet the increasing energy demand during proliferation and differentiation. However, the role of mitochondrial metabolism in HSC differentiation goes beyond ATP production. Metabolites generated during mitochondrial metabolism may impact in HSC fate decisions through stable epigenetic modifications. Despite some progress in understanding mitochondrial communication during HSC development, their role in human hematopoiesis remains largely elusive, where the lack of appropriate model systems poses a major obstacle. Reticular Dysgenesis (RD), a rare and particularly severe form of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), offers an attractive model for studying the role of mitochondrial metabolism in hematopoiesis. RD is an autosomal recessive disease caused by biallelic mutations of the mitochondrial enzyme Adenylate Kinase 2 (AK2). AK2 catalyzes the reversible phosphorylation of adenosine monophosphate (AMP) to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), which serves as the substrate for the ATP synthase. In addition to defective lymphocyte development typical of classic SCID, RD patients also suffer from impaired myeloid development, suggestive of a global defect in hematopoiesis. In a human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) model for RD, hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) recapitulate a profound maturation arrest of the myeloid lineage, increased oxidative stress and an energy-depleted metabolite and transcriptional profile. We hypothesize that AK2 defects drive hematopoietic cell fate decisions through changes in metabolites that regulate the activities of DNA/histone modifying enzymes and result in stable epigenetic modifications.

Methods: Since iPSCs are not suitable to model the epigenetic characteristics of definitive hematopoiesis, we developed a novel model system in which we deleted AK2 in primary human HSCs using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique. We found a highly effective single-guide RNA (sgRNA) targeting the catalytic LID domain of the AK2 gene to introduce directed DNA double stranded breaks (DSBs), and use a homologous recombination (HR)-mediated dual reporter system to track and isolate cells with biallelic AK2 disruption.

Results: Our single-color GFP reporter system consistently produces a >60% GFP+ population of AK2-targeted CD34+ umbilical cord blood (UCB) cells. With dual GFP/BFP reporters, we were able to achieve 6% GFP/BFP double positive cells with confirmed biallelic AK2 knock-out. Since HR events on one allele are biologically linked to CRISPR/Cas9 mediated DSBs on the other, we assessed insertion and/or deletion (INDEL) frequency and protein expression in a single reporter (GFP+) population of AK2-targeted UCBs. We detected an INDEL frequency of over 90% on the non-HR alleles along with nearly absent AK2 protein expression by Western Blot. These results indicated that the highly efficient single-color reporter system with >60% targeting efficiency is sufficient to achieve an AK2 biallelic knock-out population in primary HSCs. in vitro myeloid differentiation of these AK2-targeted HSCs recapitulates the RD phenotype with impaired neutrophil but preserved monocyte development.

Conclusion: This novel disease model for RD will now allow us to examine the cellular and molecular impact of perturbations in metabolism on human HSC development. We will investigate the effect on differentiation potential, metabolite profile, transcriptome and epigenome in vitro as well as in a xenograft mouse model. Elucidating how metabolism governs differentiation and self-renewal of human HSCs will not only advance our basic understanding of many blood and immune diseases, but has important translational implications for improving the use of HSCs in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, gene and cell therapy.


Porteus:CRISPR Therapeutics: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.