Theses Doctoral

The ins and outs of stem cells: regulation of cell fate in embryonic stem cells and hematopoiesis

Mumau, Melanie

The decisions stem cells make impact both the development of adult vertebrates and systems within the body that require cellular replenishment to sustain life. Regardless whether a stem cell remains quiescent, divides, differentiates, or undergoes apoptosis—these processes are precisely controlled by internal gene regulatory networks that are instructed by external stimuli. The exact mechanisms governing stem cell fate are not completely understood.
These studies explore new ways in which cell fate is mediated. Through a study of mitochondrial content in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and their differentiated progeny, we discovered differences in mitochondrial morphologies. Mitochondria began as elongated and networked structures in self-renewing conditions and changed their shape after differentiation. The addition of external growth factors that direct hESCs toward the definitive endoderm (DE) lineage promoted mitochondrial fragmentation, which was mediated by the mitochondrial fission machinery. Globular, punctate mitochondria were observed prior to the induction of the DE-specific transcriptional program. Differentiation of hESCs to other lineages did not result in any mitochondrial shape changes. Thus, mitochondrial fission in differentiating hESCs, an internal cellular process, is induced by DE-inducing external stimuli, an effect that was lineage specific.
In a second study, we investigated the role of the splenic environment in the development of the blood system—during hematopoiesis. The spleen made a distinct contribution to hematopoiesis, a process predominantly attributed to the bone marrow. We discovered a previously unidentified population of cells, uniquely represented in the mouse spleen that could develop into erythrocytes, monocytes, granulocytes, and platelets. These multipotent progenitors of the spleen (MPPS) expressed higher levels of the transcription factor, NR4A1 compared to their bone marrow counterparts and relied on NR4A1 expression to direct their cell fate. The activation of NR4A1 in MPPS biased their production of monocytes and granulocytes in vitro whereas NR4A1-deficient MPPS over-produced erythroid lineage cells in vivo. Together, these data suggest the splenic niche supports distinct myeloid differentiation programs of multi-lineage progenitors cells.
Both studies identify new mechanisms by which external stimuli regulate internal mechanisms of cell fate. These insights provide a better understanding of stem and progenitor cell differentiation that have the potential to impact cellular replacement therapies.


  • thumnail for Mumau_columbia_0054D_14393.pdf Mumau_columbia_0054D_14393.pdf application/pdf 30.7 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Microbiology, Immunology, and Infection
Thesis Advisors
Emerson, Stephen G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 1, 2018