Effective Gene Therapy of the hemoglobin β-chain disorders β-thalassemia or Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), requires that viral vectors deliver β-like globin gene to hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and express β-globin at levels >20% of that of endogenous α-globin. However, the β-globin gene is poorly expressed without sequences from the Locus Control Region (LCR). The LCR contains sequences that contribute to inefficient production and low titers of the recombinant virus, and pose a significant risk of insertional activation of leukemia genes. We have taken an alternative approach using enhancer independent promoters from genes expressed in erythrocytes to express sufficient β-like globin. We have focused on the erythroid ankyrin (ANK-1E) promoter, a compact GC-rich promoter with no conserved sequences that is one of the four different tissue specific promoters used to express the ANK-1 gene. We have shown that a double copy of Moloney Leukemia Virus (MLV) vector in which the ANK-1E promoter linked to a γ-globin gene replaced the promoter and enhancer sequences in the MLV Long Terminal Repeat was produced at high titer. We have also demonstrated that in mice repopulated with HSC transduced with the ANK-1E/γ-globin double copy vector, γ-globin mRNA and protein were expressed at a uniform level of 7.5% of α-globin per vector copy. To obtain the 3–4 fold increase in γ-globin expression needed to reach therapeutic levels we have taken advantage of our recent demonstration that patients with a deletion of a TG dinucleotide in the transcribed region (+4 or +32 relative to the proximal or distal mRNA start sites) of the ANK-1E promoter are ankyrin deficient due to reduced binding of the transcription initiation complex, TFIID. We hypothesized that introducing sequences with higher TFIID binding affinity into the region of the ANK-1E promoter would result in increased level of ANK-1E/γ-globin transcription needed for an effective therapy for β-thalassemia and SCD. An ANK-1E promoter library was generated using degenerate sequence in the TFIID binding region while preserving the critical TG dinucleotide (NNNNNTGNN). This library of promoters was transcribed in nuclear extract from erythroid K562 cells. The RNA transcripts were cloned by 5′RACE and analyzed by sequencing. Four different sequences were obtained: wild type (TGCGGTGAG), GGCGGTGAG, GCCGGTGAG and GGGGGTGAG. The consensus sequence derived from these clones ((G/T)(G/C)(G/C)GGTGAG) was found at two other locations in the ANK-1E promoter (−5 and −54 relative to the distal mRNA start site) as well as in 25% of 5′UTR across the human genome (p=2.2e−16). 64% of GC rich promoters contain the consensus sequence, which is enriched at +50 and −70 relative to the mRNA start site. ANK-1E promoters containing the novel sequences were linked to a luciferase reporter gene and tested individually in transient and stable transfection assays in K562 cells. The GCCGGTGAG and GGCGGTGAG promoters expressed 7- and 2.5-fold higher levels of the luciferase than the wild type promoter (p=0.001; 0.005 respectively). Electrophoretic mobility shift assays demonstrated that the two more active promoters bind more TFIID than the wild type promoter. We are evaluating the ability of these promoters to direct higher levels of γ-globin expression in primary mouse erythroid cells.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare