During development, haemogenesis occurs invariably at sites of vasculogenesis. Between embryonic day (E) 9.5 and E10.5 in mice, endothelial cells in the caudal part of the dorsal aorta generate haematopoietic stem cells and are referred to as haemogenic endothelium. The mechanisms by which haematopoiesis is restricted to this domain, and how the morphological transformation from endothelial to haematopoietic is controlled are unknown. We show here that HoxA3, a gene uniquely expressed in the embryonic but not yolk sac vasculature, restrains haematopoietic differentiation of the earliest endothelial progenitors, and induces reversion of the earliest haematopoietic progenitors into CD41-negative endothelial cells. This reversible modulation of endothelial haematopoietic state is accomplished by targeting key haematopoietic transcription factors for downregulation, including Runx1, Gata1, Gfi1B, Ikaros, and PU.1. Through loss-of-function, and gain-of-function epistasis experiments, and the identification of antipodally regulated targets, we show that among these factors, Runx1 is uniquely able to erase the endothelial program set up by HoxA3. These results suggest both why a frank endothelium does not precede haematopoiesis in the yolk sac, and why haematopoietic stem cell generation requires Runx1 expression only in endothelial cells.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank the Bob and Jean Smith Foundation for their generous support. This work was supported by the NIH grant 1R01HL081186-01 and the March of Dimes grant 5-FY2006-272. We thank Nardina Nash for genotyping and animal husbandry.