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Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) that sustain lifelong blood production are created during embryogenesis. They emerge from a specialized endothelial population, termed hemogenic endothelium (HE), located in the ventral wall of the dorsal aorta (DA). In Xenopus, we have been studying the gene regulatory networks (GRNs) required for the formation of HSCs, and critically found that the hemogenic potential is defined at an earlier time point when precursors to the DA express hematopoietic as well as endothelial genes, in the definitive hemangioblasts (DHs). The GRN for DH programming has been constructed and, here, we show that bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling is essential for the initiation of this GRN. BMP2, -4, and -7 are the principal ligands expressed in the lineage forming the HE. To investigate the requirement and timing of all BMP signaling in HSC ontogeny, we have used a transgenic line, which inducibly expresses an inhibitor of BMP signaling, Noggin, as well as a chemical inhibitor of BMP receptors, DMH1, and described the inputs from BMP signaling into the DH GRN and the HE, as well as into primitive hematopoiesis. BMP signaling is required in at least three points in DH programming: first to initiate the DH GRN through gata2 expression, then for kdr expression to enable the DH to respond to vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) ligand from the somites, and finally for gata2 expression in the DA, but is dispensable for HE specification after hemangioblasts have been formed.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Publication Date





5814 - 5821


Medical Research Council Molecular Haematology Unit, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 9DU, United Kingdom.


Hematopoietic Stem Cells, Animals, Animals, Genetically Modified, Xenopus laevis, Bone Morphogenetic Proteins, Cell Differentiation, Hematopoiesis, Cell Lineage, Gene Regulatory Networks