Burst-forming unit erythroid progenitors (BFU-Es) are so named based on their ability to generate in methylcellulose culture large colonies of erythroid cells that consist of "bursts" of smaller erythroid colonies derived from the later colony-forming unit erythroid progenitor erythropoietin (Epo)-dependent progenitors. "Early" BFU-E cells forming large BFU-E colonies presumably have higher capacities for self-renewal than do "late" BFU-Es forming small colonies, but the mechanism underlying this heterogeneity remains unknown. We show that the type III transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) receptor (TβRIII) is a marker that distinguishes early and late BFU-Es. Transient elevation of TβRIII expression promotes TGF-β signaling during the early BFU-E to late BFU-E transition. Blocking TGF-β signaling using a receptor kinase inhibitor increases early BFU-E cell self-renewal and total erythroblast production, suggesting the usefulness of this type of drug in treating Epo-unresponsive anemias.
© 2016 by The American Society of Hematology.