Participation in Haematopoiesis
RUNX1 plays a crucial role in adult (definitive) haematopoiesis during embryonic development. It is expressed in all haematopoietic sites that contribute to the formation of haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs), including the yolk sac, allantois, placenta, para-aortic splanchnopleura (P-Sp; (the visceral mesodermal layer), aorta-gonad-mesonephros (AGM) and the umbilical and vitelline arteries. HSPCs are generated via the hemogenic endothelium, a special subset of endothelial cells scattered within blood vessels that can differentiate into haematopoietic cells. The emergence of HSPCs is often studied in mouse and zebrafish animal models, in which HSPCs appear as “intra-aortic” clusters that adhere to the ventral wall of the dorsal aorta. RUNX1 or CBF takes part in this process by mediating the transition of an endothelial cell to become a haematopoietic cell. Interestingly, there is increasing evidence that RUNX1 may also be important during primitive haematopoiesis. This is because in RUNX1 knockout mice, primitive erythrocytes displayed a defective morphology and the size of blast cell population was substantially reduced, apart from the absence of HSPCs which would result in embryonic lethality by Embryonic day (E) 11.5 – 12.5.
At a molecular level, expression of the gene RUNX1 is upregulated by the RUNX1 intronic cis-regulatory element (+23 RUNX1 enhancer). This +23 RUNX1 enhancer contains conserved motifs that encourage binding of various haematopoiesis related regulators such as Gata2, ETS factors (Fli-1, Elf-1, PU.1) and the SCL / Lmo2 / Ldb1 complex, as well as RUNX1 itself acting in an auto-regulatory loop. As mentioned before, the main role of RUNX1 is to modulate the fate of haematopoietic cells. This can be achieved by binding to the thrombopoietin (TPO) recaptor/ c-Mpl promoter, followed by the recruitment of transcription activators or repressors in order to promote transition of the hemogenic endothelium to HSCs, or differentiation into linages of lower haematopoetic hierarchies. RUNX1 can also function as a rheostat by upregulating the expression of Smad6 to target itself for proteasome degradation.
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