Division-independent differentiation mandates proliferative competition among stem cells.

10 Sep 2018

Cancer-initiating gatekeeper mutations that arise in stem cells would be especially potent if they stabilize and expand an affected stem cell lineage. It is therefore important to understand how different stem cell organization strategies promote or prevent variant stem cell amplification in response to different types of mutation, including those that activate proliferation. Stem cell numbers can be maintained constant while producing differentiated products through individually asymmetrical division outcomes or by population asymmetry strategies in which individual stem cell lineages necessarily compete for niche space. We considered alternative mechanisms underlying population asymmetry and used quantitative modeling to predict starkly different consequences of altering proliferation rate: A variant, faster proliferating mutant stem cell should compete better only when stem cell division and differentiation are independent processes. For most types of stem cells, it has not been possible to ascertain experimentally whether division and differentiation are coupled. However,Drosophilafollicle stem cells (FSCs) provided a favorable system with which to investigate population asymmetry mechanisms and also for measuring the impact of altered proliferation on competition. We found from detailed cell lineage studies that division and differentiation of an individual FSC are not coupled. We also found that FSC representation, reflecting maintenance and amplification, was highly responsive to genetic changes that altered only the rate of FSC proliferation. The FSC paradigm therefore provides definitive experimental evidence for the general principle that relative proliferation rate will always be a major determinant of competition among stem cells specifically when stem cell division and differentiation are independent.