Poster Board III-504
Fetal hemoglobin (α2γ2; HbF) is a potent genetic modifier of the severity of beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia. Clinical studies indicate that moderate elevation in production of HbF achieved through heritable persistence of HbF or administration of hydroxyurea, effectively reduce the severity of beta-chain defects. Accordingly, we are exploring strategies to maintain expression of the endogenous gamma-globin genes following lentiviral vector-mediated gene transfer. The artificial zinc-finger transcription factor (GG1-VP64) was designed to interact with sequences in the proximal gamma-globin gene promoters and has been shown to enhance gamma-globin expression in human erythroleukemia cells and mouse marrow cells which are transgenic for the human beta-globin locus. Here, we describe studies designed to evaluate the impact of expression of GG1-VP64 on gamma-globin expression by maturing adult erythroblasts derived from CD34+ cells of normal and thalassemic donors. We utilized an in vitro culture model of human erythropoiesis in which late stage erythroblasts are derived from human CD34+ hematopoietic cells. In this system, cytokine-mobilized peripheral blood or steady state bone marrow CD34+ cells from adults yielded erythroblasts containing 2% or less HbF. The lentiviral vector encodes for bicistronic expression of the GG1-VP64 transactivator and GFP under transcriptional control of the beta-spectrin or ankyrin-1 promoter which give low but progressive increase in expression during erythroid development. Three normal donor CD34+ cells were transduced 48 hours after initiation of culture by overnight exposure to the GG1-VP64 vector or GFP control vector. Approximately 50-60% of the cells were successfully transduced with the control and GG1-VP64 vectors as monitored by flow cytometry analysis for GFP expression. Control vector transduction had no effect on cell proliferation or differentiation monitored by consistent increases in cell numbers and the appearance of CD71 (transferrin receptor) and CD235 (glycophorin A) on most cells (>98% and >80%, respectively) whereas GG1-VP64 gene transfer reduced cell proliferation slightly without affecting erythroid differentiation. Erythroblasts derived from GFP transduced cells expressed low levels of HbF (1.7+/−0.6%) whereas those derived from cells transduced with GG1-VP64 demonstrated induction of HbF ranging from 12-21% with an average vector copy number of 0.8 to 1.0. When cells from a normal donor were sorted into GFP- and GFP+ populations, significant levels of HbF were present only in the GFP+ fraction. We next tested the GG1-VP64 transactivator in three independent studies using bone marrow CD34+ cells from two patients with beta-thalassemia major. Gene transfer was effective as reflected by 74+/−6% (control) and 47+/− 2% (GG1-VP64) GFP marking in bulk cultures. Again, GG1-VP64 gene transfer in beta-thalassemia CD34+ cells reduced cell growth somewhat but did not perturb erythroid differentiation as monitored by the appearance of transferrin receptor (>98%) and Glycophorin A (>80%) as well as cell morphology. Erythroblasts derived from GFP transduced cells expressed levels of HbF in the range of 26+/−5% whereas those derived from cells transduced with GG1-VP64 demonstrated a 2-fold induction of HbF to 52+/−9% with an average vector copy number of 0.5-0.9. Our data show that lentiviral-mediated, enforced expression of GG1-VP64 under the control of erythroid-specific promoters induced significant amounts of HbF in normal and thalassemic erythroblasts derived from adult CD34+ cells without altering their capacity for erythroid maturation following transduction. These observations demonstrate the potential for sequence specific enhancement of HbF in patients with beta-thalassemia or sickle cell anemia.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.