Abstract 458

Increased fetal hemoglobin (HbF) levels associated with acute erythropoietic stress in man and experimental baboons have been proposed to result from increased commitment of early progenitors that preferentially express γ-globin to the terminal erythroid differentiation pathway. The increased propensity of early progenitors to preferentially express γ-globin has been hypothesized to be due to the presence of trans-acting factors favoring γ-globin expression. Because increased HbF in response to acute erythropoietic stress does not occur in transgenic human β-globin gene locus mouse models, investigation of the mechanism responsible for this phenomenon requires the use of a primate model system. We investigated the role of DNA methylation and the trans-acting factor BCL11A in the mechanism responsible for increased HbF in a primary cell culture system designed to mimic conditions associated with acute erythropoietic stress. Erythroid progenitor cells (EPC) derived from CD34+ baboon bone marrow (BM) cells cultured in Iscove's medium containing 30% fetal bovine serum supplemented with 2 U/ml Epo, 200ng/ml SCF, and 1uM dexamethasone express high levels of γ-globin (0.47+ 0.09 γ/γ+β; n=6). Bisulfite sequence analysis performed to determine whether changes in DNA methylation of 5 CpG residues within the 5' γ-globin promoter regions were associated with increased γ-globin expression showed that DNA methylation levels were similar in BM erythroid cells from normal baboons expressing very low levels of HbF (<1%), bled baboons expressing moderately elevated levels of HbF (5-10%), and cultured erythroid progenitor cells expressing highly elevated levels of HbF (30-50%). Changes in γ-globin promoter DNA methylation were thus not associated with increased γ-globin expression in EPC cultures. Further experiments were therefore performed to investigate whether differences in BCL11A expression were associated with increased γ-globin in EPC cultures. Western blot assays performed using three different anti-BCL11A monoclonal antibodies recognizing epitopes present in the N terminus, core, and C terminus detected different BCL11A isoforms in cultured EPC and normal BM erythroid cells. The size of the predominant protein band detected in cultured EPC was 125kDa, corresponding to the reported size of the in vitro transcription/translation product encoded by the BCL11A-XL transcript (Liu et al, Mol Cancer 16:18, 2006). In contrast, the size of the predominant band observed in BM erythroid cells was 220kDa. The 220kDa isoform was not observed in cultured EPC. Higher molecular weight forms of BCL11A have been observed following co-transfection of vectors encoding BCL11A and SUMO-1 (Kuwata and Nakamura, Genes Cells 13:931, 2008). Therefore we investigated whether the post-translational modification SUMOylation was responsible for the difference in the size of the 125 and 220kDa isoforms. Immunoprecipitation experiments performed using either SUMO-1 or SUMO 2/3 antibodies followed by Western blot with anti-BCL11A antibody showed that the 220 kDa isoform, but not the 125kDa isoform, was immunoprecipitated by either anti-SUMO-1 or anti-SUMO-2/3 antibody, confirming that the 220 kDA isoform, but not the 125 kDa isoform, was SUMOylated. Western blot assays performed to investigate the relative levels of these isoforms in BM erythroid cells of normal baboons, phlebotomized baboons, and early gestational age (53d) baboon fetal liver showed that expression of the 125kDa isoform was increased in bled compared to normal unbled baboons, suggesting that the deSUMOylated BCL11A isoform was increased by erythropoietic stress. The relative levels of the 125 and 220 kDa isoforms were similar in bled BM and fetal liver, indicating that SUMOylation of BCL11A was not developmentally regulated. The absolute level of BCL11A was reduced in fetal liver erythroid cells compared to BM erythroid cells consistent with observations showing that the level of BCL11A expression is developmentally regulated in man (Sankaran et al, Nature epub 2009). We conclude that BCL11A is post-translationally modified by SUMOylation in primary BM erythroid cells, but not in cultured EPC expressing high levels of HbF and suggest that modulation of the level of BCL11A SUMOylation is important in the mechanism responsible for increased HbF levels during recovery from acute erythropoietic stress.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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