Sexually dimorphic mammalian tissues, including sexual organs and the brain, contain stem cells that are directly or indirectly regulated by sex hormones. An important question is whether stem cells also exhibit sex differences in physiological function and hormonal regulation in tissues that do not show sex-specific morphological differences. The terminal differentiation and function of some haematopoietic cells are regulated by sex hormones, but haematopoietic stem-cell function is thought to be similar in both sexes. Here we show that mouse haematopoietic stem cells exhibit sex differences in cell-cycle regulation by oestrogen. Haematopoietic stem cells in female mice divide significantly more frequently than in male mice. This difference depends on the ovaries but not the testes. Administration of oestradiol, a hormone produced mainly in the ovaries, increased haematopoietic stem-cell division in males and females. Oestrogen levels increased during pregnancy, increasing haematopoietic stem-cell division, haematopoietic stem-cell frequency, cellularity, and erythropoiesis in the spleen. Haematopoietic stem cells expressed high levels of oestrogen receptor-α (ERα). Conditional deletion of ERα from haematopoietic stem cells reduced haematopoietic stem-cell division in female, but not male, mice and attenuated the increases in haematopoietic stem-cell division, haematopoietic stem-cell frequency, and erythropoiesis during pregnancy. Oestrogen/ERα signalling promotes haematopoietic stem-cell self-renewal, expanding splenic haematopoietic stem cells and erythropoiesis during pregnancy.
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