Modeling large fluctuations of thousands of clones during hematopoiesis: The role of stem cell self-renewal and bursty progenitor dynamics in rhesus macaque

by Song Xu, Sanggu Kim, Irvin S. Y. Chen, Tom Chou

In a recent clone-tracking experiment, millions of uniquely tagged hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) were autologously transplanted into rhesus macaques and peripheral blood containing thousands of tags were sampled and sequenced over 14 years to quantify the abundance of hundreds to thousands of tags or “clones.” Two major puzzles of the data have been observed: consistent differences and massive temporal fluctuations of clone populations. The large sample-to-sample variability can lead clones to occasionally go “extinct” but “resurrect” themselves in subsequent samples. Although heterogeneity in HSC differentiation rates, potentially due to tagging, and random sampling of the animals’ blood and cellular demographic stochasticity might be invoked to explain these features, we show that random sampling cannot explain the magnitude of the temporal fluctuations. Moreover, we show through simpler neutral mechanistic and statistical models of hematopoiesis of tagged cells that a broad distribution in clone sizes can arise from stochastic HSC self-renewal instead of tag-induced heterogeneity. The very large clone population fluctuations that often lead to extinctions and resurrections can be naturally explained by a generation-limited proliferation constraint on the progenitor cells. This constraint leads to bursty cell population dynamics underlying the large temporal fluctuations. We analyzed experimental clone abundance data using a new statistic that counts clonal disappearances and provided least-squares estimates of two key model parameters in our model, the total HSC differentiation rate and the maximum number of progenitor-cell divisions.

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