The research team led by Dr. Timm Schroeder, stem cell researcher at Helmholtz Center Munich, Germany has developed a new bioimaging method for observing the differentiation of hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) at the single-cell level. With this method the researchers were able to prove for the first time that not only cell-intrinsic mechanisms, but also external environmental factors such as growth factors can control HPC lineage choice directly. The findings, published in Science, provide an essential building block for understanding the molecular mechanisms of hematopoiesis and are an important prerequisite for optimizing therapeutic stem cell applications.
With the new bioimaging techniques developed by Dr. Schroeder’s team, progenitor cells could be observed for a longer period and on the single-cell level. Depending on the kind of cytokines present, after a few days the HPC cultures contained only one cell type. The question remained unanswered whether this was a consequence of direct cytokine regulation or merely the result of sorting out “erroneously differentiated” cells by cell death. Using the new bioimaging techniques for continuous single-cell observation, Dr. Michael Rieger and students in Dr. Schroeder’s research group showed for the first time that no cell death could be detected during the entire cell differentiation process. This proves unambiguously that HPC lineage choices can be steered by external environmental factors such as in this case by cytokines. The hematopoietic progenitor cells are “instructed” by cytokines.
Rieger MA, Hoppe PS, Smejkal BM, Eitelhuber AC & Schroeder T (2009): Hematopoietic cytokines can instruct lineage choice. Science 325:217-218