In blood, oxygen is transported principally by hemoglobin tetrameric molecules in erythocytes, which allow for the delivery to tissue cells. When anemia occurs, such as perisurgically or after trauma, blood transfusion is administered to replace the deficit in oxygen-carrying capacity. During embryogenesis and later in adult life, tissue oxygen levels control multiple key cellular functions. Low tissue oxygen levels in particular are physiologically relevant to stem cells by controlling their metabolism and cell fate. In adult life, hematopoietic stem cells reside in specified BM microenvironments/niches, where their quiescence and differentiation are presumably also influenced by cell-intrinsic and cell-extrinsic (niche) factors. Novel imaging technologies have allowed determination of the spatial localization of hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPCs), as well as the topography of oxygen distribution in BM cavities. Together, these recent advances have contributed to the emergence of a novel model that challenges the previous concept of a hypoxic hematopoietic stem cell niche characterized by poorly perfused endosteal zones with the deepest hypoxia. HSPCs display a hypoxic phenotype despite residing in close association with arterial or sinusoidal vascular networks. The entire BM cavity is hypoxic and unexpectedly exhibits an opposite oxygen gradient to the one initially proposed because arteriole-rich endosteal zones are relatively less hypoxic than deeper regions of the BM perfused by dense sinusoidal networks. Therefore, further studies are warranted to elucidate to what extent differences in oxygen tensions in these diverse microenvironments influence HSPC homeostasis.
© 2014 by The American Society of Hematology. All rights reserved.