Sickle cell disease (SCD) impacts one of 400 African-Americans born each year. Augmentation of fetal hemoglobin (HbF) levels is widely accepted as the most effective method for treating SCD, but hydroxyurea (HU) is currently the only approved drug that increases HbF. Thus, there is a need for the development of new therapies for this disease, including the identification of transcriptional activators that specifically up-regulate γ-globin (HbF). Developmental regulation of human β-like globin gene switching is controlled by several parameters, including cis- and trans-acting transcriptional determinants. Understanding the mechanisms underlying control of globin gene expression, particularly those involved in activation of γ-globin expression (HbF) is important for developing new treatments for SCD.
Metal-responsive transcription factor-1 (MTF-1) is a key regulator of zinc metabolism in higher eukaryotes that controls the metal-inducible expression of metallothioneins and a number of other genes directly involved in the intracellular sequestration and efflux transport of zinc. Previous studies demonstrated that MTF-1 plays an essential role in liver development and that MTF-1-deficient mice display an anemic phenotype, suggesting a role for MTF-1 in hematopoiesis. In our study, when murine MTF-1 was expression was enforced, we observed a 5-fold increase in γ-globin expression in K562 cells. We also demonstrated increased γ-globin expression in adult blood from MTF-1 human β-globin locus yeast artificial chromosome (β-YAC) bi-transgenic (bigenic) mouse lines at the mRNA level by quantitative real-time RT-PCR (qPCR) and at the protein level by FACS analysis. Lastly, γ-globin gene expression was induced 12-fold in bone marrow cells (BMCs) derived from these bigenic mice compared to BMCs derived from β-YAC-only mice, and 3-fold after 6 hours of zinc treatment in β-YAC-only BMCs. Corroborative studies including zinc-deficient and zinc replete diets in β-YAC mice and erythroid-specific MTF-1 loss-of-function in loxP-flanked-MTF-1 LCR-β-globin promoter-Cre β-YAC mice further support a role for MTF-1 in g-globin gene expression. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analysis did not show recruitment of MTF-1 to any γ-globin gene-proximal metal response elements (MREs), the DNA motif that MTF-1 binds to control zinc metabolism genes. However, GATA-2 co-immunoprecipitated with MTF-1 in MTF-1 β-YAC BMCs, but not in β-YAC-only BMCs, suggesting that reactivation of γ-globin expression by MTF-1 might be mediated by a MTF-1-GATA-2 protein complex. ChIP experiments indicated that MTF-1 and GATA-2 co-occupy the same sites in the γ-globin promoter. Two of the stronger co-recruitment regions contain not only GATA sites, but also non-canonical MREs that vary by 1 or 2 bp from the canonical 7 bp MRE core. Interestingly, GATA-2 was induced 2-fold in adult blood of MTF-1 β-YAC mice, and also 3.5-fold in MTF-1 β-YAC BMCs treated with zinc for 6 hours. Our data suggest that activation of γ-globin by MTF-1 is mediated by protein-protein interaction with GATA-2 and that this multi-protein complex is targeted to GATA sites located in the γ-globin gene-promoters via binding of the GATA-2 protein.
In a previous study we identified testis-specific protein Y-like 1 (TSPYL1) as a candidate gene involved in activation of γ-globin (de Andrade et al., 2006, Blood Cells, Mol. & Dis. 37:82). TSPYL1 mRNA level was increased 2–5 fold in deletional hereditary persistence of fetal hemoglobin (HPFH-2) subjects and decreased in a carrier of the Sicilian δβ-thalassemia trait. TSPYL1 is a transcription factor that is a member of the nucleosome assembly protein (NAP) family. TSPYL1 is not a DNA-binding protein; thus it exerts its effect through protein-protein interactions. When we enforced expression of human TSPYL1 in K562 cells an 11-fold induction of γ-globin expression was obtained. A reduction of γ-globin expression was observed following TSPYL1 knockdown in K562 cells. qPCR analysis of blood from TSPYL1 β-YAC bigenic mice showed that γ-globin expression was increased 4–12-fold. Taken together, our data strongly support the evidence that MTF-1 and TSPYL1 reactivate γ-globin expression in adult erythropoiesis. These two proteins represent potential new targets in strategies to reactivate γ-globin in hemoglobinopathies where higher levels of HbF would have beneficial effects.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.