Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) require fine-tuned cooperation of transcription factors (TFs) and epigenetic regulators to maintain normal self-renewal. Precise control of this ability is essential to suppress aberrant proliferation. Understanding the regulation of self-renewal is therefore crucial for gaining insight into normal and neoplastic hematopoiesis. PHF6, an enigmatic, leukemia-mutated, chromatin-binding protein specifically represses HSC self-renewal, providing an attractive model for dissecting the underlying regulatory network. The goal of this proposal is to illuminate a mechanistic link between normal self-renewal and aberrant proliferation through dissection of how PHF6 modulates enhancers bound by key hematopoietic TFs. Our in vivo studies show that Phf6 hematopoietic knockout specifically increases HSC self-renewal while leaving downstream hematopoiesis largely unperturbed. Pilot experiments indicate that constitutive HOXA9 expression cooperates with Phf6 loss to cause rapid, lethal progenitor expansion. We have thus identified profoundly contrasting homeostatic and HOXA9-driven phenotypes of Phf6 loss, providing an ideal system to study how HSC self-renewal is co-opted in aberrant proliferation. Our preliminary data show that PHF6 binds and represses enhancers co-occupied by the TFs RUNX1, PU.1, IRF8. We have thus identified a mechanistic basis for PHF6 activity (chromatin co-occupancy with key hematopoietic TFs). We hypothesize that PHF6 represses HSC self-renewal and aberrant myeloid progenitor expansion through a common mechanism of modulating enhancers bound by RUNX1, PU.1, and IRF8.
Specific Aim 1 : We will determine the role of PHF6 in repressing HSC self-renewal and myeloid progenitor expansion in vivo by determining whether Phf6 loss accelerates HOXA9-driven myeloid progenitor expansion, whether R274Q mutation abrogates PHF6 functions in HSCs and myeloid progenitors, and whether Phf6 loss activates RUNX1/PU.1/IRF8-bound enhancers. The experiments in Aim 1 will advance our understanding of HSC biology by linking self-renewal to aberrant expansion through a core regulatory circuit downstream of PHF6.
Specific Aim 2 : We will determine the mechanism of PHF6 activity in vitro by determining whether RUNX1/PU.1/IRF8 recruit PHF6 to chromatin, whether R274Q mutation abrogates PHF6 chromatin binding, and whether PHF6 recruits additional complexes to repress enhancer activity. The experiments in Aim 2 will illuminate the sequence of events from recruitment of PHF6 to chromatin by key TFs, to the downstream effects of PHF6 on enhancer function and consequently on gene expression. These studies, if successful, will pinpoint a disease-relevant mechanism linking HSC self-renewal to aberrant progenitor expansion through modulation of enhancers by PHF6 in conjunction with hematopoietic TFs. This will be an important advance in our understanding of the epigenetic regulation of HSC self-renewal.

Public Health Relevance

Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which maintain themselves through self-renewal, a process that must be tightly regulated in order to prevent a variety of bone marrow disorders. This application proposes to study a gene named PHF6, which regulates HSC self-renewal, and whose mutation can cause life-threatening bone marrow abnormalities. Understanding how PHF6 maintains self-renewal will help us understand how the balance of normal HSCs is maintained in health, and how an imbalance in this process can cause disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Molecular and Cellular Hematology Study Section (MCH)
Program Officer
Bai, C Brian
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Pennsylvania
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code