Eltrombopag (EP), a small-molecule thrombopoietin receptor (TPO-R) agonist and potent intracellular iron chelator, has shown remarkable efficacy in stimulating sustained multilineage hematopoiesis in patients with bone marrow failure syndromes, suggesting an effect at the most immature hematopoietic stem and multipotent progenitor level. Although the functional and molecular effects of EP on megakaryopoiesis have been studied in the past, mechanistic insights into its effects on the earliest stages of hematopoiesis have been limited. We investigated the effects of EP treatment on hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) function using purified primary HSCs in separation-of-function mouse models, including a TPO-R-deficient strain, and stem cells isolated from patients undergoing TPO-R agonist treatment. Our mechanistic studies showed a stimulatory effect on stem cell self-renewal independently of TPO-R. Human and mouse HSCs responded to acute EP treatment with metabolic and gene expression alterations consistent with a reduction of intracellular labile iron pools that are essential for stem cell maintenance. Iron preloading prevented the stem cell stimulatory effects of EP. Moreover, comparative analysis of stem cells in the bone marrow of patients receiving EP showed a marked increase in the number of functional stem cells compared to patients undergoing therapy with romiplostim, another TPO-R agonist lacking an iron-chelating ability. Together, our study demonstrates that EP stimulates hematopoiesis at the stem cell level through iron chelation-mediated molecular reprogramming and indicates that labile iron pool-regulated pathways can modulate HSC function.
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