Prospective identification of hematopoietic and neural stem/progenitor cells using transgenic and lentiviral based approaches

Adult stem cells represent only a minor proportion of a given tissue and are difficult to amplify in vitro without affecting their biological properties. To circumvent this problem, we used a transgenic/lentiviral based approach to isolate and characterize these cells by driving a fluorescent reporter protein under the control of Spi2a, H2Kb or MELK promoter/enhancer elements, which were previously shown to be active in various stem cells. The first chapter focuses on Spi2a, a serine protease inhibitor (Serpin), which is known to be preferentially expressed in hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Taking advantage of the previously characterized minimal Spi2a promoter, we were able to determine its activity profile in the hematopoietic system. For this purpose, we infected HSCs with a lentivirus driving d2eGFP expression under the control of the minimal Spi2a promoter. These cells were then injected into lethally irradiated recipient mice that were analyzed at different time points (≥2 months) after transplantation. Despite variable d2eGFP expression in the hematopoietic compartment, we found a population of bright d2eGFP-expressing bone marrow cells (Spi2a0.1%) that were mostly restricted to HSCs and early myeloid progenitors. Spi2a0.1% cells displayed multilineage colony forming potential in vitro and exhibited long-term multilineage repopulating capacity in vivo, when a restricted numbers of these cells (≥ 300 cells) were transplanted into secondary recipient mice. Furthermore, we generated transgenic mice using a similar construct as used for the lentiviral approach. These mice indicated that the Spi2a promoter may be activated in non-hematopoietic adult stem cells, such as in the brain, the testis or the pancreas. In the second chapter, we describe a transgenic mouse line that expresses a green fluorescent protein variant (zFP) under the control of H2Kb promoter/enhancer element. Despite the broad zFP expression, transgenic HSCs expressed exceptionally high levels of zFP, allowing prospective isolation of a population highly enriched in HSCs by sorting the 0.2% of the brightest green cells from the enriched bone marrow of H2Kb-zFP mice. Up to 90% of zFPbright cells were also c-kithigh, Sca-1high, Linneg, Flk-2neg, which is a bona fide phenotype for long-term HSCs. Double-sorted zFPbright HSCs were capable of long-term multilineage reconstitution at a limiting dilution dose of approximately 12 cells, which is comparable to that of highly purified HSCs obtained by conventional multicolor flow cytometry. Thus, the H2Kb-zFP transgenic mice provide a straightforward and easy setup for the simple and highly efficient enrichment for genetically labeled HSCs. The last chapter is dedicated to MELK. This kinase of the snf1/AMPK family was recently identified to regulate the proliferation of multipotent neural progenitor cells and was also found to be expressed in hematopoietic stem cells and in spermatogonia. Using a transgenic mouse approach by expressing eGFP under a 3.5kb MELK promoter/enhancer element, we demonstrated that eGFP-expressing cells were localized in the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the lateral ventricle and in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus, the two major regions of adult neurogenesis. Moreover, the eGFP expression level in SVZ-derived cells positively correlated with their ability to form neurospheres. We also observed strong and restricted expression of eGFP in spermatogonia cells, indicating that MELK may play an important role in early spermatogenesis. Additionally, activation of the MELK promoter in hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells suggested a widespread implication of MELK in various adult stem cells. To conclude, we have generated three different reporter strains and one lentiviral based approach that allow for in vivo identification of stem/progenitor cells in different compartment such as the brain, the bone marrow or the testis. With the raising interest of stem-cell-based therapies in the neurodegenerative or the cancer field, these mice should provide novel and alternative tools to study these phenomena in vivo.


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