β-thalassemia is associated with ineffective erythropoiesis, accelerated erythroid differentiation and apoptosis resulting in anemia and iron overload. The molecular mechanism involved is still incompletely understood. Members of the TGF-β superfamily participate in both proliferation and differentiation of erythroid progenitors. However, the role of these molecules in models of ineffective erythropoiesis has not been addressed so far. RAP-011 is a ligand trap consisting of the extracellular domain of ActRIIA linked to mouse IgG1 Fc domain. We aimed to study the role of ActRIIA signaling in the ineffective erythropoiesis of β-thalassemia and to evaluate the therapeutic impact of RAP-011.
Hbbth1/th1 mice (a model of β-thalassemia intermedia) were subcutaneously treated with RAP-011 (10mg/kg body weight) twice a week for 30–60 days and biological and biochemical parameters were followed.
RAP-011 treatment significantly increased hemoglobin levels, red blood cell counts, MCV, MCH and hematocrit with a concomitant decrease in bilirubin levels and reticulocyte counts (since 10 days of treatment and sustained until day 60 of follow up). Flow cytometry analysis showed that RAP-011 significantly decreased late basophilic and polychromatic erythroblast cell numbers in both bone marrow and spleen indicating that RAP-011 corrects ineffective erythropoiesis. We next evaluated the expression of putative ActRIIA ligand(s) in β-thalassemia. Increased expression of Growth Differentiation Factor 11 (GDF11) was observed in cultured erythroblasts and in spleen sections of thalassemic mice. RAP-011 treatment decreased these elevated GDF11 levels in both bone marrow and spleen. We further investigated how BMP/Activin signaling was involved in ineffective erythropoiesis. Anti-GDF11 antibodies, follistatin (activin and GDF11 antagonist) and dorsomorphin (a small molecule inhibitor of SMAD1/5/8 phosphorylation) reduced differentiation, induced FAS-L expression and apoptosis in erythroblasts both in vivo and in vitro whereas noggin (a BMP-2/4 antagonist) had no effect on erythroblast differentiation. Altogether, these data suggest that Activin/BMP signaling controls erythroblast differentiation and targeting BMP type II /activin type II receptors can decrease ineffective erythropoiesis of β-thalassemia.
Sotatercept (a humanized version of RAP-011) is currently in phase II clinical trials for treatment of anemia in patients with Myeloma Bone Disease and End Stage Renal Disease and data from our non-clinical findings support a newly initiated β-thalassemia clinical trial. Our results suggest that sotatercept would be a potential therapeutic tool to improve anemia, increase hemoglobin levels and correct ineffective erythropoiesis and its side effects in β-thalassemic patients.
Daniel:Celgene Corporation: Employment. Chopra:Celgene Corp: Employment, Equity Ownership. Sung:Celgene: Employment.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.