FLRG, member of the follistatin family, a new player in hematopoiesis.
Several years ago, we cloned and characterized from a B cell leukemia a new secreted protein which, on the basis of its high degree of structural homology with follistatin, was defined as a member of the follistatin family and accordingly named follistatin-related gene (FLRG). However, follistatin and FLRG revealed non-overlapping patterns of expression in various tissues thereby indicating the existence of non-redundant functional roles for these proteins throughout the organism. As known for a long time, follistatin is a biological regulator of activin and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) function in various cellular systems: in particular, it inhibits the effects of activin on hematopoiesis. We therefore investigated the expression and effects of FLRG during human hematopoiesis with particular focus on the effect of this soluble glycoprotein in the regulation of erythropoiesis. For this purpose, we have for the first time, compared the role of Activin A, BMP2 and BMP4 during erythropoiesis, in primary human cells. Our results indicate that, BMP2 acts on early erythroid cells while Activin A acts on a more differentiated population. We report the induction by Activin A and BMP2 of cell commitment towards erythropoiesis in the absence of EPO. This induction involves two key events: increase of EPO-R and the decrease of GATA2 expression. Our results indicate that despite their high structural homology, follistatin and FLRG do not regulate the same signaling targets, therefore highlighting distinct functions and mechanisms for these two proteins in the human hematopoietic system. We thus propose a working model for the regulation of activin or BMP-induced human erythropoiesis by follistatin/FLRG.