Sickle cell anemia (SCD) is a hereditary blood disorder in which red blood cells (RBC) become sickle-shaped and block blood vessels, leading to painful vaso-occlusive episodes. Sickling occurs because of a point-mutation in the β-globin gene of hemoglobin. Fetal hemoglobin (HbF, α2γ2) is the main oxygen transport protein with greater oxygen binding affinity in the fetus during the last months of embryonic development and the first few months of life after birth. HbF inhibits sickling by interfering with the polymerization of hemoglobin S. Higher HbF levels in SCD correlate with better survival and because HbF production can be reactivated pharmacologically in adults, it can be used for the treatment of SCD as well as β-thalassemia. In β-thalassemia, there is reduced or absent synthesis of the β-globin gene, causing ineffective erythropoiesis.

B-cell lymphoma/leukemia 11A (BCL11A) is a transcription factor in the zinc-finger protein family and is expressed in B cells and erythroid cells. BCL11A represses fetal hemoglobin expression by binding to the GGCCCGG motif in the β-globin promoter region. Erythroid Kruppel-like factor (KLF1) is an erythroid-specific transcription factor that regulates β-globin expression through direct interaction with its promoter and indirectly regulates γ-globin expression through the regulation of BCL11A. By reducing the expression of BCL11A and KLF1, we can promote production of HbF through the upregulation of γ-globin expression.

To demonstrate upregulation of γ-globin mRNA expression in vitro, we used MEL-h-b-BAC line#7 cells, a murine erythroleukemic cell line harboring the entire human beta globin locus and expressing mouse BCL11A and KLF1 (Tim Townes, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham). Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) targeting mouse BCL11A or mouse KLF1 were added to the cells in a dose-dependent manner. Seven days later, with free uptake of the ASOs into the cells, we observed dose-dependent reduction of mouse BCL11A mRNA (IC50 = 0.7 μM) and mouse KLF1 mRNA (IC50 = 3 μM). Consequently, we observed a 300 +/- 8% upregulation of human γ-globin mRNA expression after achieving ∼90% reduction in BCL11A mRNA expression after ASO treatment compared to the untreated control cells. Similarly, KLF1 ASO treatment caused a 500 +/- 58% up regulation of human γ-globin mRNA expression after achieving ∼80% mRNA reduction in KLF expression. These data indicate that targeting BCL11A and/or KLF1 with ASO treatment can cause an increase in γ-globin expression that is necessary for the upregulation of fetal hemoglobin and may be used for the treatment of sickle-cell anemia and β-thalassemia.


Peralta: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Employment. Low: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Employment. Kim: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Employment. Murray: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Employment. Guo: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Employment. Freier: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Employment. Townes: University of Alabama at Birmingham: Employment. Hung: Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Employment.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.