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Developmental regulation of primitive erythropoiesis.

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: In this review, we present an overview of recent studies of primitive erythropoiesis, focusing on advances in deciphering its embryonic origin, defining species-specific differences in its developmental regulation, and better understanding the molecular and metabolic pathways involved in terminal differentiation.

RECENT FINDINGS: Single-cell transcriptomics combined with state-of-the-art lineage tracing approaches in unperturbed murine embryos have yielded new insights concerning the origin of the first (primitive) erythroid cells that arise from mesoderm-derived progenitors. Moreover, studies examining primitive erythropoiesis in rare early human embryo samples reveal an overall conservation of primitive erythroid ontogeny in mammals, albeit with some interesting differences such as localization of erythropoietin (EPO) production in the early embryo. Mechanistically, the repertoire of transcription factors that critically regulate primitive erythropoiesis has been expanded to include regulators of transcription elongation, as well as epigenetic modifiers such as the histone methyltransferase DOT1L. For the latter, noncanonical roles aside from enzymatic activity are being uncovered. Lastly, detailed surveys of the metabolic and proteomic landscape of primitive erythroid precursors reveal the activation of key metabolic pathways such as pentose phosphate pathway that are paralleled by a striking loss of mRNA translation machinery.

SUMMARY: The ability to interrogate single cells in vivo continues to yield new insights into the birth of the first essential organ system of the developing embryo. A comparison of the regulation of primitive and definitive erythropoiesis, as well as the interplay of the different layers of regulation - transcriptional, epigenetic, and metabolic - will be critical in achieving the goal of faithfully generating erythroid cells in vitro for therapeutic purposes.

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