Erythropoiesis: model systems, molecular regulators, and developmental programs

IUBMB Life. 2009 Aug;61(8):800-30. doi: 10.1002/iub.226.


Human erythropoiesis is a complex multistep developmental process that begins at the level of pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) at bone marrow microenvironment (HSCs niche) and terminates with the production of erythrocytes (RBCs). This review covers the basic and contemporary aspects of erythropoiesis. These include the: (a) cell-lineage restricted pathways of differentiation originated from HSCs and going downward toward the blood cell development; (b) model systems employed to study erythropoiesis in culture (erythroleukemia cell lines and embryonic stem cells) and in vivo (knockout animals: avian, mice, zebrafish, and xenopus); (c) key regulators of erythropoiesis (iron, hypoxia, stress, and growth factors); (d) signaling pathways operating at hematopoietic stem cell niche for homeostatic regulation of self renewal (SCF/c-kit receptor, Wnt, Notch, and Hox) and for erythroid differentiation (HIF and EpoR). Furthermore, this review presents the mechanisms through which transcriptional factors (GATA-1, FOG-1, TAL-1/SCL/MO2/Ldb1/E2A, EKLF, Gfi-1b, and BCL11A) and miRNAs regulate gene pattern expression during erythroid differentiation. New insights regarding the transcriptional regulation of alpha- and beta-globin gene clusters were also presented. Emphasis was also given on (i) the developmental program of erythropoiesis, which consists of commitment to terminal erythroid maturation and hemoglobin production, (two closely coordinated events of erythropoieis) and (ii) the capacity of human embryonic and umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells to differentiate and produce RBCs in culture with highly selective media. These most recent developments will eventually permit customized red blood cell production needed for transfusion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Erythropoiesis / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 / physiology
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Protoporphyrins / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • Protoporphyrins
  • iron protoporphyrin IX