Human health and development depend on dynamic networks of physical, and functional, interactions between proteins. However, the details of these networks – how they are formed and how they function – are largely unknown.
Kyle McCracken, MD, PhD
Clinical Fellow, Pediatric Nephrology
Boston Children’s Hospital
Yonatan Stelzer, PhD
Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science
Norbert Pardi, PhD
Assistant Professor of Microbiology, University of Pennsylvania
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The human lung differs substantially from its mouse counterpart, resulting in a distinct distal airway architecture affected by disease pathology in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In humans, the distal branches of the airway interweave with the alveolar gas-exchange niche, forming an anatomical structure known as the respiratory bronchioles. Owing to the lack of a counterpart in mouse, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern respiratory bronchioles in the human lung remain uncharacterized. Here we show that human respiratory bronchioles contain a unique secretory cell population that is distinct from cells in larger proximal airways. Organoid modelling reveals that these respiratory airway secretory (RAS) cells act as unidirectional progenitors for alveolar type 2 cells, which are essential for maintaining and regenerating the alveolar niche. RAS cell lineage differentiation into alveolar type 2 cells is regulated by Notch and Wnt signaling. In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, RAS cells are altered transcriptionally, corresponding to abnormal alveolar type 2 cell states, which are associated with smoking exposure in both humans and ferrets. These data identify a distinct progenitor in a region of the human lung that is not found in mouse that has a critical role in maintaining the gas-exchange compartment and is altered in chronic lung disease.
Type 2 alveolar epithelial cells (AT2s), facultative progenitor cells of the lung alveolus, play a vital role in the biology of the distal lung. In vitro model systems that incorporate human cells, recapitulate the biology of primary AT2s, and interface with the outside environment could serve as useful tools to elucidate functional characteristics of AT2s in homeostasis and disease. We and others recently adapted human induced pluripotent stem cell–derived AT2s (iAT2s) for air-liquid interface (ALI) culture. Here, we comprehensively characterize the effects of ALI culture on iAT2s and benchmark their transcriptional profile relative to both freshly sorted and cultured primary human fetal and adult AT2s. We find that iAT2s cultured at ALI maintain an AT2 phenotype while upregulating expression of transcripts associated with AT2 maturation. We then leverage this platform to assay the effects of exposure to clinically significant, inhaled toxicants including cigarette smoke and electronic cigarette vapor.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) reside at the top of the hematopoietic hierarchy and can give rise to all the mature blood cell types in our body, while at the same time maintaining a pool of HSCs through self-renewing divisions. This potential is reflected in their functional definition as cells that are capable of long-term multi-lineage engraftment upon transplantation. While all HSCs meet these criteria, subtle differences exist between developmentally different populations of these cells. Here we present a comprehensive overview of traditional and more recently described markers for phenotyping HSCs and their downstream progeny. To address the need to assess the growing number of surface molecules expressed in various HSC-enriched fractions at different developmental stages, we have developed an extensive multi-parameter spectral flow cytometry panel to phenotype hematopoietic stem and multipotent progenitor cells (HSC/MPPs) throughout development. In this study we then employ this panel to comprehensively profile the HSC compartment in the human fetal liver (FL), which is endowed with superior engraftment potential compared to postnatal sources. Spectral cytometry lends an improved resolution of marker expression to our comprehensive approach, allowing to extract combinatorial expression signatures of several relevant HSC/MPP markers to precisely characterize the HSC/MPP fraction in a variety of tissues.
Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) were differentiated into a specific mesoderm subset characterized by KDR+CD56+APLNR+ (KNA+) expression. KNA+ cells had high clonal proliferative potential and specification into endothelial colony-forming cell (ECFCs) phenotype. KNA+ cells differentiated into perfused blood vessels when implanted subcutaneously into the flank of nonobese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficient mice and when injected into the vitreous of type 2 diabetic mice (db/db mice). Transcriptomic analysis showed that differentiation of hiPSCs derived from diabetics into KNA+ cells was sufficient to change baseline differences in gene expression caused by the diabetic status and reprogram diabetic cells to a pattern similar to KNA+ cells derived from nondiabetic hiPSCs. Proteomic array studies performed on retinas of db/db mice injected with either control or diabetic donor–derived KNA+ cells showed correction of aberrant signaling in db/db retinas toward normal healthy retina. These data provide “proof of principle” that KNA+ cells restore perfusion and correct vascular dysfunction in db/db mice.
There is an urgent need to understand how SARS-CoV-2 infects the airway epithelium and in a subset of individuals leads to severe illness or death. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) provide a near limitless supply of human cells that can be differentiated into cell types of interest, including airway epithelium, for disease modeling. We present a human iPSC-derived airway epithelial platform, composed of the major airway epithelial cell types, that is permissive to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Subsets of iPSC-airway cells express the SARS-CoV-2 entry factors angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), and transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2). Multiciliated cells are the primary initial target of SARS-CoV-2 infection. On infection with SARS-CoV-2, iPSC-airway cells generate robust interferon and inflammatory responses, and treatment with remdesivir or camostat mesylate causes a decrease in viral propagation and entry, respectively. In conclusion, iPSC-derived airway cells provide a physiologically relevant in vitro model system to interrogate the pathogenesis of, and develop treatment strategies for, COVID-19 pneumonia.
The human hematopoietic stem cell harbors remarkable regenerative potential that can be harnessed therapeutically. During early development, hematopoietic stem cells in the fetal liver undergo active expansion while simultaneously retaining robust engraftment capacity, yet the underlying molecular program responsible for their efficient engraftment remains unclear. Here, we profile 26,407 fetal liver cells at both the transcriptional and protein level including ~7,000 highly enriched and functional fetal liver hematopoietic stem cells to establish a detailed molecular signature of engraftment potential. Integration of transcript and linked cell surface marker expression reveals a generalizable signature defining functional fetal liver hematopoietic stem cells and allows for the stratification of enrichment strategies with high translational potential. More precisely, our integrated analysis identifies CD201 (endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR), encoded by PROCR) as a marker that can specifically enrich for engraftment potential. This comprehensive, multi-modal profiling of engraftment capacity connects a critical biological function at a key developmental timepoint with its underlying molecular drivers. As such, it serves as a useful resource for the field and forms the basis for further biological exploration of strategies to retain the engraftment potential of hematopoietic stem cells ex vivo or induce this potential during in vitro hematopoietic stem cell generation.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) have the capacity to both self-renew and differentiate into all mature blood cell types, making them promising treatments for a variety of diseases. However, the mechanisms involved in engraftment—when the cells start to grow and make healthy blood cells after being transplanted into a patient—are poorly understood. A recent study led by researchers at BUSM and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has revealed the unique signature of genes expressed by HSCs capable of undergoing this process. The findings, which are published in Nature Communications, could enable scientists to expand these cells outside of the body or to convert other types of stem cells into cells that can repopulate the blood system.
Page 10 spotlights a CReM trainee and PhD Candidate in the Gouon-Evans Lab, Elissa Everton.
Page 14 congratulates George Murphy, PhD, for receiving a 2021 Healthy Longevity Catalyst Award for his project “Deciphering Mechanisms of Disease Resistance and Longevity in Centenarians.”
The page 18 cover story showcases Boston University’s longest-running, federally funded training program that began in 1975 and has been refunded through its 50th year.
Hemogenic endothelial cells (HECs) are specialized cells that undergo endothelial to hematopoietic transition (EHT) to give rise to hematopoietic progenitors. Though not defined as a hematopoietic organ, the lung houses many resident hematopoietic cells, aids in platelet biogenesis, and is a reservoir for hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs), but lung HECs have never been described. Using explant cultures of murine and human fetal lungs, we demonstrate that the fetal lung is a source of HECs that have the functional capacity to undergo EHT to produce de-novo HSPCs. Flow cytometric and functional assessment of fetal lung explants showed the production of HSPCs that expressed key EHT and pre-HSPC markers. scRNA-Seq and small molecule modulation demonstrated that fetal lung EHT is reliant on canonical EHT signaling pathways. These findings suggest that functional HECs are present in the fetal lung, thus establishing this location as a potential extramedullary site of de-novo hematopoiesis.
A bold early-stage project aiming to develop lab-grown lungs—which could bring fresh hope to people with pulmonary diseases such as asthma and lung cancer—has been awarded $1.5 million over three years from the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. The effort will be led by researchers at Boston University’s College of Engineering and School of Medicine.