Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in a steady state can be efficiently purified by selecting for a combination of several cell surface markers; however, such markers do not consistently reflect HSC activity. In this study, we successfully enriched HSCs with a unique stemness-monitoring system using a transgenic mouse in which green florescence protein (GFP) is driven by the promoter/enhancer region of the nucleostemin (NS) gene. We found that the phenotypically defined long-term (LT)-HSC population exhibited the highest level of NS-GFP intensity, whereas NS-GFP intensity was strongly downregulated during differentiation in vitro and in vivo. Within the LT-HSC population, NS-GFPhigh cells exhibited significantly higher repopulating capacity than NS-GFPlow cells. Gene expression analysis revealed that nine genes, including Vwf and Cdkn1c (p57), are highly expressed in NS-GFPhigh cells and may represent a signature of HSCs, i.e., a stemness signature. When LT-HSCs suffered from remarkable stress, such as transplantation or irradiation, NS-GFP intensity was downregulated. Finally, we found that high levels of NS-GFP identified HSC-like cells even among CD34+ cells, which have been considered progenitor cells without long-term reconstitution ability. Thus, high NS-GFP expression represents stem cell characteristics in hematopoietic cells, making this system useful for identifying previously uncharacterized HSCs.
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