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Title: Mapping the transcriptional landscape of haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells
Author: Shaw, Sonia
ISNI:       0000 0004 7968 6032
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Maintenance of the blood system requires balanced cell-fate decisions of haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs). Individual haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) decide between self-renewal and differentiation and can generate all mature cell types. Cell-fate decisions are made at the single-cell level and are governed by regulatory networks. Dysregulation in this balanced process could lead to serious blood disorders such as leukaemia; therefore, it is important to understand how individual cells make these cell-fate decisions. To investigate HSPC populations, 1,654 cells were profiled by single-cell RNA-sequencing. Index sorting made it possible to sort HSPCs using broad sorting gates and retrospectively assign them to common HSPC populations, retaining all information about specific functionally pure populations while also capturing any intermediate cells normally excluded by conventional gating. Reconstruction of differentiation trajectories revealed dynamic expression changes associated with early lineage differentiation from HSCs. This transcriptional atlas of HSPC differentiation was further used to identify candidate genes for a CRISPR screen investigating genes implicated in HSC biology. These candidate gene perturbations were interrogated for changes in the expression of the HSC marker EPCR, as well as changes in apoptosis and lineage output. Transcription factors play a key role in regulating cell-fate decisions and operate within organized regulatory programs. To study relationships between transcription factors in HSPC populations, qRT-PCR was used to profile the expression of 41 genes, including 31 transcription factors, in HSPCs at the single-cell level. This approach confirmed known aspects of haematopoiesis and made deeper investigation of HSPC heterogeneity possible. Regulatory networks were reconstructed using Boolean network inference models and recapitulated differentiation of HSCs towards megakaryocyte-erythrocyte progenitors and lymphoid-primed multipotent progenitors. By comparing these two models, a rule specific to the megakaryocyte-erythrocyte progenitor network was identified, in which GATA2 positively regulated Nfe2 and Cbfa2t3h. This was subsequently validated using transcription factor binding profiles and in vitro luciferase assays using a model cell line. Overall, the work presented in this thesis confirmed known aspects of HSPC biology using single-cell gene expression analysis and demonstrated how in silico approaches can be used to guide in vitro and in vivo investigations. In addition, the single-cell RNA-sequencing data was developed into an intuitive web interface that can be used to visualise the gene expression for any gene of choice at single-cell resolution across the HSPC atlas, providing a powerful resource for the haematopoietic community.
Supervisor: Gottgens, Berthold Sponsor: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: single cell ; haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells ; RNA-seq ; qRT-PCR ; regulatory networks ; transcription factors ; luciferase assays ; CRISPR