Post-natal pharmacological reactivation of HbF, by restoring the unbalanced α/non-α globin chain production in red cells of patients affected by β-thalassemia or sickle cell anemia, represents a potential cure for these diseases. Many classes of compounds have been identified capable to induce Hb F synthesis in vitro by acting at different levels of the globin gene expression regulatory machinery. One of these classes is represented by inhibitors of a family of enzymes, the histone deacetylases (HDACs), involved in chromatin remodelling and gene transcription regulation. HDACs act in multi-protein complexes that remove acetyl groups from lysine residues on several proteins, including histones and are divided into three distinct structural classes, depending on whether their catalytic activity is zinc (class I/II)- or NAD+ (class III)-dependent. The effects of the HDACs inhibitors identified so far on HbF synthesis is, however, modest and often associated with high toxicity. Therefore, the potential of their clinical use is unclear. We have recently described a new family of synthetic HDACs inhibitors, the Aroyl-pyrrolyl-hydroxy-amides (APHAs), that induce differentiation, growth arrest and/or apoptosis of transformed cell in culture [

Mai A et al,
J Med Chem
]. In this study, we investigate the capability of 10 different APHA compounds to induce Hb F in two in vitro assays. One assay is based on the ability of APHA compounds to activate either the human Aγ-driven Firefly (Aγ-F) or the β-promoter drives Renilla Luciferase (β-R) reporter in GM979 cells stably transfected with a Dual Luciferase Reporter construct. The second assay is represented by the induction of γ-globin expression (by quantitative RT-PCR) in primary adult erythroblasts obtained in HEMA cultures of mononuclear cells from normal donors. The majority of the compounds tested did not significantly increased the Aγ−F (Aγ−F+β−R) reporter ratio in GM979 cells. However, the compound MC1575 increased by 3-fold (from 0.09 to 0.30) the reporter ratio in GM979 cells at a concentration of 20 μM, with modest effects of the proliferation activity of GM979 cells over the three days of the assay. When MC1575 was added at a concentration of 2–10 μM in cultures of primary adult erythroblasts induced to differentiate in serum-free media for 4 days, it induced a three fold increase of the γ/(γ+β) globin ratio (from 0.04 to 0.12), with no apparent cellular toxicity. Among the HDAC inhibitors tested in this study, MC1575 was not the most potent inhibitor of total enzyme activity. However, it was the compound that most selectively inhibited the activity of the maize homologue of mammalian class IIa HDAC enzymes [
Mai et al,
J Med Chem
]. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that each class of histone deacetylases might have a specific biological function and indicate that those of class IIa might represent the enzymes most specifically involved in globin gene regulation. We suggest that, by targeting the chemical inhibitors toward the catalytic domain of this class of enzymes, it should be possible to identify more specific, more potent and less toxic compounds for pharmacological treatment of β-thalassemia or sickle cell anemia.

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