The Thrombopoietin (THPO)/ thrombopoietin receptor (MPL) signaling axis is not only critical for the generation of platelets and megakaryocytes, but also for the maintenance of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and the bone marrow niche. MPL is expressed on primitive HSC, HSC progenitors, megakaryocytes, platelets, osteoblasts and osteoclasts, clonal hematopoietic stem cells and many leukemias. THPO production is constitutive but is also increased by inflammatory cytokines. Sustained exposure to high levels of THPO not only enhances platelet production, but also has a profound effect on HSC and the bone marrow microenvironment. Excess THPO/MPL signaling, whether driven by inflammatory cytokines, or due to mutations in THPO, JAK2, MPL or CALR, is associated with HSC expansion, megakaryocyte hypertrophy and increased platelet count, excess release of megakaryocyte and platelet-based cytokines such as TGF-beta and PDGF-alpha, and the development of stromal myofibroblasts that drive tissue fibrosis and anemia.

We developed a robust and clinically validated RNAi therapeutics platform for the delivery of siRNAs to the liver using trivalent N-acetylgalactosamine (GalNAc) conjugates, enabling specific silencing of hepatocyte-expressed genes following subcutaneous injection. Since liver is the major source of THPO expression, we utilized GalNAc-siRNA technology to develop siRNAs targeting THPO for evaluation in wild type mice and murine models of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN). Active siRNAs were identified by in vitro screening in primary mouse hepatocytes and the 12 best siRNAs were evaluated in vivo in normal mice to select the most potent siRNA. THPO liver mRNA levels were reduced by up to 80% after a single subcutaneous THPO siRNA dose, with no effect on THPO mRNA expression in other organs (kidney, and bone marrow, both of which had marginal THPO expression compared to liver). Circulating TPO levels were reduced by 80% by day 7 and were suppressed for up to 28 days post a single dose treatment. Platelet counts were reduced to 60% of baseline by day 14, and a further reduction to more than 70% of baseline was observed with every other week dosing. No changes in red blood cell or white blood cell subsets were observed. Platelet reduction was accompanied by a reduction in megakaryocyte mass, as evidenced by a 50% decrease in the number of bone marrow megakaryocytes in THPO siRNA treated mice compared to controls. Mice treated every other week with TPO siRNA for three months demonstrated sustained circulating THPO protein and platelet count reductions, and a significant reduction in bone marrow HSC, Lin-Sca1+Kit- (LSK) and multipotent progenitor (MPP) frequency. Evaluation of impact THPO silencing on MPN phenotypes in transgenic JAK2V617F mice is ongoing. THPO silencing is a potential novel targeted therapeutic approach that may be beneficial in benign and malignant conditions in which deregulated THPO/MPL signal transduction drives disease pathology.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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