Key Points

  • A missense mutation in the DNMT1 BAH1 domain epigenetically derepresses γ-globin expression and ameliorates β-thalassemia severity.

  • Missense DNMT1 variant S878F is identified as a novel genetic modifier implicated in high HbF production and, thus, the mild phenotype.

Abstract

DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) is a major epigenetic regulator of the formation of large macromolecular complexes that repress human γ-globin expression by maintaining DNA methylation. However, very little is known about the association of DNMT1 variants with β-thalassemia phenotypes. We systematically investigated associations between variants in DNMT1 and phenotypes in 1142 β-thalassemia subjects and identified a novel missense mutation (c.2633G>A, S878F) in the DNMT1 bromo-adjacent homology-1 (BAH1) domain. We functionally characterized this mutation in CD34+ cells from patients and engineered HuDEP-2 mutant cells. Our results demonstrate that DNMT1 phosphorylation is abrogated by substituting serine with phenylalanine at position 878, resulting in lower stability and catalytic activity loss. S878F mutation also attenuated DNMT1 interactions with BCL11A, GATA1, and HDAC1/2, and reduced recruitment of DNMT1 to the γ-globin (HBG) promoters, leading to epigenetic derepression of γ-globin expression. By analyzing the F-cell pattern, we demonstrated that the effect of DNMT1 mutation on increased fetal hemoglobin (HbF) is heterocellular. Furthermore, introduction of S878F mutation into erythroid cells by clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)–CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) recapitulated γ-globin reactivation. Thus, the natural S878F DNMT1 mutation is a novel modulator of HbF synthesis and represents a potential new therapeutic target for β-hemoglobinopathies.

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