Positive Feedback Between PU.1 and the Cell Cycle Controls Myeloid Differentiation

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Science  09 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6146, pp. 670-673
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240831

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A Different Cycle for Differentiation

The regulated expression of transcription factors determines cell fate decisions during cell differentiation. The transcription factor PU.1 is an important determinant in the differentiation of hematopoietic progenitors to lymphocytes or myeloid cells, where high expression induces macrophage differentiation, whereas low expression leads to the development of B lymphocytes. How PU.1 expression levels are regulated during this cell fate choice, however, is not well understood. Kueh et al. (p. 670, published online 18 July) found that in mice, reduced transcription of PU.1 led to its reduced expression in developing B lymphocytes, whereas in macrophages, PU.1 was able to accumulate stably because of a lengthening of the cell cycle. Exogenous expression of PU.1 in progenitors supported cell cycle lengthening and macrophage differentiation, and mathematical modeling suggested that such a feedback loop could maintain a slow-dividing macrophage developmental state.


Regulatory gene circuits with positive-feedback loops control stem cell differentiation, but several mechanisms can contribute to positive feedback. Here, we dissect feedback mechanisms through which the transcription factor PU.1 controls lymphoid and myeloid differentiation. Quantitative live-cell imaging revealed that developing B cells decrease PU.1 levels by reducing PU.1 transcription, whereas developing macrophages increase PU.1 levels by lengthening their cell cycles, which causes stable PU.1 accumulation. Exogenous PU.1 expression in progenitors increases endogenous PU.1 levels by inducing cell cycle lengthening, implying positive feedback between a regulatory factor and the cell cycle. Mathematical modeling showed that this cell cycle–coupled feedback architecture effectively stabilizes a slow-dividing differentiated state. These results show that cell cycle duration functions as an integral part of a positive autoregulatory circuit to control cell fate.

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