Activin A Promotes Hematopoietic Fated Mesoderm Development Through Upregulation of Brachyury in Human Embryonic Stem Cells
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The development of the hematopoietic system involves multiple cellular steps beginning with the formation of the mesoderm from the primitive streak, followed by emergence of precursor populations that become committed to either the endothelial or hematopoietic lineages. A number of growth factors such as activins and fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) are known to regulate the early specification of hematopoietic fated mesoderm, notably in amphibians. However, the potential roles of these factors in the development of mesoderm and subsequent hematopoiesis in the human have yet to be delineated. Defining the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which combinations of mesoderm-inducing factors regulate this stepwise process in human cells in vitro is central to effectively directing human embryonic stem cell (hESC) hematopoietic differentiation. Herein, using hESC-derived embryoid bodies (EBs), we show that Activin A, but not basic FGF/FGF2 (bFGF), promotes hematopoietic fated mesodermal specification from pluripotent human cells. The effect of Activin A treatment relies on the presence of bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4) and both of the hematopoietic cytokines stem cell factor and fms-like tyrosine kinase receptor-3 ligand, and is the consequence of 2 separate mechanisms occurring at 2 different stages of human EB development from mesoderm to blood. While Activin A promotes the induction of mesoderm, as indicated by the upregulation of Brachyury expression, which represents the mesodermal precursor required for hematopoietic development, it also contributes to the expansion of cells already committed to a hematopoietic fate. As hematopoietic development requires the transition through a Brachyury+ intermediate, we demonstrate that hematopoiesis in hESCs is impaired by the downregulation of Brachyury, but is unaffected by its overexpression. These results demonstrate, for the first time, the functional significance of Brachyury in the developmental program of hematopoietic differentiation from hESCs and provide an in-depth understanding of the molecular cues that orchestrate stepwise development of hematopoiesis in a human system.