The role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in megakaryocyte development
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Megakaryocyte specification is the process by which discrete hematopoietic subpopulations undergo lineage commitment towards the myeloid compartment, finally specifying as a megakaryocyte erythroid progenitor (MEP) by way of thrombopoietin (TPO) and erythropoietin (EPO) signaling, before becoming a megakaryocyte lineage restricted progenitor that will progressively increase cellular ploidy and compartmentalize its cytoplasm in preparation for platelet production. With the advent of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), a cell type that is experimentally manipulated to function as embryonically derived pluripotent cells, there now exists the ability to analyze signal transduction throughout discrete phases of hematopoiesis, megakaryocyte lineage cell fate, and platelet production. Recent studies have implicated the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) as a transcription factor that plays a critical role in multiple aspects of hematopoiesis. These results inspired the hypothesis that AHR signaling may be functionally relevant in the context of megakaryopoiesis. To test this hypothesis, an iPSC directed differentiation strategy was established in order to create a platform upon which to experimentally manipulate AHR signaling throughout megakaryocyte specification. The results demonstrate: 1) iPSC derived hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) undergo exponential expansion upon AHR agonism; 2) AHR antagonism allows for megakaryocyte lineage bias; 3) Optimization of directed-differentiation allows for the examination of AHR signaling in megakaryocyte lineage-restricted cells; 4) AHR signaling suppresses the expression of MPL, the gene that encodes the thrombopoietin receptor (C-MPL) in iPSC derived megakaryocyte lineage committed cells; 5) AHR activation concomitantly suppresses cell surface expression of C-MPL, which may alter the sensitivity of HPCs to TPO signaling; 6) Multiple gene targets are modulated by AHR activation within megakaryocyte lineage cells, providing evidence of a transcriptional program downstream of AHR signaling that preferentially suppresses megakaryocyte specification; 7) A reporter iPSC line of AHR activity provides evidence of endogenous AHR signaling throughout megakaryocyte specification and shows a sharp decline in AHR activity upon megakaryocyte lineage commitment; 8) In a mouse model of megakaryocyte lineage specific AHR knockout, platelet counts are significantly reduced. These data suggest that the AHR plays a significant role in megakaryocyte specification by modulating the expression of multiple lineage specific gene targets, including MPL, the thrombopoietin receptor.