Hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells (HSCs) are stimulated to leave their “homes” in the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream, where they differentiate into all the body’s blood cells. The signals that activate this mobilization of HSCs have not been well defined.
In research published online in December 2020 in Nature, Paul Frenette, M.D., and colleagues found that nociceptive (pain-sensing) nerves in the bone marrow play a key role in regulating HSCs. Those nerves secrete peptides into the bone marrow, turning on a cascade of signals that instruct the stem cells to migrate from the bone marrow to the bloodstream.
Interestingly, the research team found that feeding mice food containing capsaicin (the “hot” component of chili peppers) significantly enhanced HSC mobilization. These findings could help to increase the yield of HSCs that are harvested from the blood for use in bone-marrow transplants for treating blood cancers and other life-threatening diseases.
Dr. Frenette is a professor of medicine and of cell biology and the chair and director of the Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Einstein.