'Pre-leukaemic' mutations are thought to promote clonal expansion of haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) by increasing self-renewal and competitiveness; however, mutations that increase HSC proliferation tend to reduce competitiveness and self-renewal potential, raising the question of how a mutant HSC can sustainably outcompete wild-type HSCs. Activating mutations in NRAS are prevalent in human myeloproliferative neoplasms and leukaemia. Here we show that a single allele of oncogenic Nras G12D increases HSC proliferation but also increases reconstituting and self-renewal potential upon serial transplantation in irradiated mice, all prior to leukaemia initiation. Nras G12D also confers long-term self-renewal potential to multipotent progenitors. To explore the mechanism by which Nras G12D promotes HSC proliferation and self-renewal, we assessed cell-cycle kinetics using H2B-GFP label retention and 5-bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation. Nras G12D had a bimodal effect on HSCs, increasing the frequency with which some HSCs divide and reducing the frequency with which others divide. This mirrored bimodal effects on reconstituting potential, as rarely dividing Nras G12D HSCs outcompeted wild-type HSCs, whereas frequently dividing Nras G12D HSCs did not. Nras G12D caused these effects by promoting STAT5 signalling, inducing different transcriptional responses in different subsets of HSCs. One signal can therefore increase HSC proliferation, competitiveness and self-renewal through bimodal effects on HSC gene expression, cycling and reconstituting potential.
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