Abstract

High levels of fetal hemoglobin (HbF) are known to ameliorate the pathophysiology of β-globin disorders. The objective of this study is twofold: the first is to evaluate the efficacy of hemin as an inducer of HbF in erythroid cells from patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) and β-thalassemia (β-thal); the second is to determine if the combination of butyrate and hemin can induce higher levels of expression of HbF than either agent alone. BFU-E derived cells from the peripheral blood of two patients with homozygous SCD, three patients with β-thal, one patient with sickle β-thalassemia (S/β-thal) and one normal individual (AA) were cultured in the absence (control) or presence of butyrate (B), hemin (H) or butyrate and hemin (B+H). As expected, the levels of γ-globin mRNA [expressed as % γ/(β+γ)] increased upon butyrate exposure in progenitor-derived erythroid cells from SS and S/β-thal patients, and to a lesser extent in patients with β-thal (P = 0.01). In contrast, butyrate did not increase γ-globin expression in BFU-E derived colonies from the AA individual. Moreover, hemin exposure increased the γ/(β+γ) ratio in all subjects (P = 0.02). These findings confirm that hemin can be an effective HbF inducing agent in SCD and β-thal. Although the mechanism of induction of HbF by hemin is not known, unlike butyrate, hemin is clearly not a direct inhibitor of histone deacetylases and is likely to induce HbF by a different mechanism of action. Thus, we investigated the effect of the combination of hemin and butyrate on γ-globin gene expression. Interestingly, the combination of butyrate and hemin resulted in additive increases in the γ/(β+γ) ratios in all patients compared to butyrate alone (P = 0.03) or hemin alone (P = 0.01) (Table I). Just as importantly, exposure to both drugs resulted in a decrease in the α/(β+γ) mRNA imbalance in β-thal, which is the predominant pathophysiological feature of this disorder. In conclusion, combination therapy consisting of butyrate and hemin, which are two agents with different mechanisms of action and different toxicity profiles, may provide a more effective way of inducing HbF in patients with SCD and β-thal.

Table I
 mRNA 
 SCD β-Thal S/β-Thal AA 
%γ/(β+γ) Control 36 42 26 7.1 
 45 50 41 6.9 
 55 55 52 15 
 B+H 60 61 59 13 
α/(β+γ) Control 3.1 8.9 1.8 1.9 
 2.0 7.7 2.9 1.7 
 3.0 7.5 1.7 1.0 
 B+H 2.9 6.4 2.2 1.3 
 mRNA 
 SCD β-Thal S/β-Thal AA 
%γ/(β+γ) Control 36 42 26 7.1 
 45 50 41 6.9 
 55 55 52 15 
 B+H 60 61 59 13 
α/(β+γ) Control 3.1 8.9 1.8 1.9 
 2.0 7.7 2.9 1.7 
 3.0 7.5 1.7 1.0 
 B+H 2.9 6.4 2.2 1.3 

Disclosures: Served as a consultant to Ovation pharmaceutical on the potential of Panhematin in the treatment of patients with sickle cell disease.; Research funding has been provided by Ovation pharmaceutical to the laboratory of GF Atweh.; GF Atweh is a member of a hematology/oncology advisory board of Ovation pharmaceuticals.

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