Prospective isolation of radiation induced erythroid stress progenitors reveals unique transcriptomic and epigenetic signatures enabling increased erythroid output.

Massive expansion of erythroid progenitor cells is essential for surviving anemic stress. Research towards understanding this critical process, referred to as stress-erythropoiesis, has been hampered due to lack of specific marker-combinations enabling analysis of the distinct stress-progenitor cells capable of providing radioprotection and enhanced red blood cell production. Here we present a method for precise identification and in vivo validation of progenitor cells contributing to both steady-state and stress-erythropoiesis, enabling for the first time in-depth molecular characterization of these cells. Differential expression of surface markers CD150, CD9 and Sca1 defines a hierarchy of splenic stress-progenitors during irradiation-induced stress recovery in mice, and provides high-purity isolation of the functional stress-BFU-Es with a 100-fold improved enrichment compared to state-of-the-art. By transplanting purified stress-progenitors expressing the fluorescent protein Kusabira Orange, we determined their kinetics in vivo and demonstrated that CD150+CD9+Sca1- stress-BFU-Es provide a massive but transient radioprotective erythroid wave, followed by multi-lineage reconstitution from CD150+CD9+Sca1+ multi-potent stem/progenitor cells. Whole genome transcriptional analysis revealed that stress-BFU-Es express gene signatures more associated with erythropoiesis and proliferation compared to steady-state BFU-Es, and are BMP-responsive. Evaluation of chromatin accessibility through ATAC sequencing reveals enhanced and differential accessibility to binding sites of the chromatin-looping transcription factor CTCF in stress-BFU-Es compared to steady-state BFU-Es. Our findings offer molecular insight to the unique capacity of stress-BFU-Es to rapidly form erythroid cells in response to anemia and constitute an important step towards identifying novel erythropoiesis stimulating agents.

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