Identification of the Earliest Neutrophil Progenitor Population


Neutrophils are a type of immune cell that is one of the first cell types to travel to the site of an infection. Neutrophils help fight infection by ingesting microorganisms and releasing enzymes that kill the microorganisms. However, immature neutrophils can be dangerous as the accumulation of neutrophils has been linked to cancer and may even be a biomarker for COVID-19. Immature neutrophils are primarily distinguished from each other by nuclear features, such as a lack of nuclear segmentation, with decreasing indentation with more immaturity.

Neutrophils are the most abundant peripheral immune cells and are continually replenished by bone marrow-derived progenitors. Yet, it is unclear how newly identified neutrophil subsets fit into the bone marrow neutrophil lineage. Now researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology report they have tracked down the rare stem cells that generate neutrophils in human bone marrow.

The researchers identified the stem cells that are the early origins of neutrophils, the most abundant blood cell type in humans. Knowing how human neutrophils develop is especially relevant today because immature neutrophils have been found to be elevated in both the blood and lungs of severe COVID-19 patients.

Previously the research team led by professor Catherine Hedrick reported the discovery of a group of progenitor stem cells that give rise to mature neutrophils. The researchers believed that detecting these progenitors could give doctors a better way to catch early cancer cases. The researchers decided to get a closer look at neutrophil development. In a new research revealed a progenitor cell type that exists earlier in human neutrophil development. The team used a tool called cytometry by time-of-flight (CyTOF) to distinguish these rare cells from other types of immune progenitor cells, which made it possible for the researchers to identify more specific protein markers. Their study is published in Immunity and provides a potential path for intervening in diseases where neutrophil development is disrupted.

They used mass cytometry to show that two recently defined human neutrophil progenitor populations contain a homogeneous progenitor subset, they termed early neutrophil progenitors’ (eNePs; Lin −CD66b +CD117 +CD71 +). Surface marker- and RNA-expression analyses, together with in vitro colony formation and in vivo adoptive humanized mouse transfers, indicate that eNePs are the earliest human neutrophil progenitors. Furthermore, they identified CD71 as a marker associated with the earliest neutrophil developmental stages.

The researchers have used a few markers to track neutrophils over time, but the new research provides specific markers for tracking neutrophil development from the beginning.

They also discovered that cases of skin and lung cancers are often accompanied by a flood of immature neutrophils including the early progenitor cells into the bloodstream. Expression of CD71 marks proliferating neutrophils, which were expanded in the blood of melanoma patients and detectable in blood and tumors from lung cancer patients.

The researchers are looking forward to continuing their work to discover the exact mechanisms that stop neutrophils from reaching maturity, and stress knowing the earliest cells that give rise to neutrophils is critical for targeting the cells.

Identification of the Earliest Neutrophil Progenitor Population - Medicine Innovates

About the author


Professor Hedrick received her B.S. in Biology from Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1984. She received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in 1992, where she performed her graduate research on LDL cholesterol metabolism in the laboratory of Dr Lawrence Rudel. From 1992 to 1995, she performed her postdoctoral research on HDL metabolism in the laboratory of Dr Aldons ‘Jake’ Lusis at UCLA. From 1995 to 1999, she worked as a junior faculty member in the Division of Cardiology at UCLA, where her research focused on inflammation and endothelial function. From 2000 to 2009, Dr. Hedrick worked as a professor in the Departments of Pharmacology, Medicine, and Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In 2009, Dr. Hedrick was awarded the Harrison Chair of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics at the University of Virginia. Dr. Hedrick joined the faculty of LJI in 2009.

Dr. Hedrick currently serves on the NHLBI Vascular Cellular Molecular Biology Review Committee, the AAI Committee for the Status of Women, and the American Heart Association ATVB Council Leadership Committee. She is also a Fellow of the American Heart Association. Recent honors received by Dr. Hedrick include the ATVB Vascular Biology Special Recognition Award, from the American Heart Association in 2013; the Jeffrey M. Hoeg Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Award for Basic Science and Clinical Research from the American Heart Association in 2014; and the Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Mentor of Women Award from the American Heart Association in 2015.


Huy Q. Dinh, Tobias Eggert, Melissa A. Meyer, Yanfang Peipei Zhu, Claire E. Olingy, Ryan Llewellyn, Runpei Wu, Catherine C. Hedrick. Coexpression of CD71 and CD117 Identifies an Early Unipotent Neutrophil Progenitor Population in Human Bone Marrow. Immunity, vol53 (2), P319-334.E6, 2020

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