The orphan nuclear receptor TR4 regulates erythroid cell proliferation and maturation

Mary P. Lee, Osamu Tanabe, Lihong Shi, Natee Jearawiriyapaisarn, Daniel Lucas-Alcaraz and James Douglas Engel

Key points

  • TR4 and TR2 execute distinct functions during embryogenesis and erythroid differentiation.

  • TR4 promotes erythroid proliferation and maturation.


The orphan nuclear receptors TR4 (NR2C2) and TR2 (NR2C1) are the DNA binding subunits of the macromolecular complex, direct repeat erythroid-definitive (DRED), which has been shown to repress ϵ- and γ- globin transcription during adult definitive erythropoiesis. Previous studies implied that TR2 and TR4 act largely in a redundant manner during erythroid differentiation; however, during the course of routine genetic studies we observed multiple variably penetrant phenotypes in the Tr4 mutants, suggesting that indirect effects of the mutation might be masked by multiple modifying genes. To test this hypothesis, Tr4+/- mutant mice were bred into a congenic C57BL/6 background and their phenotypes were reexamined. Surprisingly, we found that homozygous Tr4 null mutant mice expired early during embryogenesis, around embryonic day (E) 7.0, and well before erythropoiesis commences. We further found that Tr4+/- erythroid cells failed to fully differentiate and exhibited diminished proliferative capacity. Analysis of Tr4+/- mutant erythroid cells revealed that reduced TR4 abundance resulted in decreased expression of genes required for heme biosynthesis and erythroid differentiation (Alad and Alas2), but led to significantly increased expression of the proliferation inhibitory factor, cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor (Cdkn1c). These studies support a vital role for TR4 in promoting erythroid maturation and proliferation, and demonstrate that TR4 and TR2 execute distinct, individual functions during embryogenesis and erythroid differentiation.

  • Submitted May 5, 2017.
  • Accepted September 15, 2017.