Luspatercept is a recombinant fusion protein that binds and sequesters several endogenous transforming growth factor-beta superfamily ligands, including growth differentiation factor 11, thereby diminishing Smad2/3 signaling in target cells involved in erythropoiesis. Luspatercept, and its murine analog RAP-536, have been shown to act as erythroid maturation agents via their effects on late-stage erythropoiesis by inducing erythroblast maturation, leading to increases in red blood cells (RBCs) and hemoglobin (Hb). This study demonstrated that thalassemic (th3/+) reticulocytes are unstable, and that RAP-536, in addition to its function as an erythroid maturation agent, modulates the maturation of wild-type (WT) and th3/+ reticulocytes. Furthermore, RAP-536 treatment increased RBCs and decreased bilirubin in a mouse model of alpha-thalassemia (129S-Hba-a1tm1Led/J).

To examine whether acute RAP-536 treatment acts on reticulocytes and alters reticulocyte levels in blood, the blood of WT mice was analyzed 3, 12, and 24 hours, and 2, 3, 4, and 7 days after a single dose of RAP-536 (10 or 30 mg/kg) or vehicle. RAP-536 treatment increased RBCs, Hb, and hematocrit significantly at all time points, compared with vehicle. However, in mice treated with RAP-536, reticulocytes in blood decreased significantly on Days 2, 3, and 4 and returned to normal baseline levels on Day 7. Analysis of reticulocyte subpopulations in blood 3 days after RAP-536 treatment showed that the relative percentages of immature reticulocytes (CD71+ or high RNA content) within the blood reticulocyte population decreased, suggesting that reticulocytes released from the bone marrow (BM) were more mature and/or reticulocytes matured faster in blood.

A quantitative pharmacology (QP) model was developed to explore which RAP-536-induced modulations of erythropoiesis in WT mice can simulate the experimental observations. The model represents erythroblast, reticulocyte, and RBC (erythrocyte) maturation stages in BM, peripheral blood, and spleen, in the presence or absence of a RAP-536 effect. The QP model consists of a system of ordinary differential equations, with homeostatic parameter values assigned from literature or experimental measures, and RAP-536-perturbed parameter values regressed by fitting the model to erythropoiesis data of RAP-536-treated WT mice. Comparison of model parameters for homeostatic versus RAP-536-perturbed states indicated that RAP-536 leads to an increase in the erythroblast-to-reticulocyte and reticulocyte-to-RBC conversion rates, the transfer of BM reticulocytes to blood, and a delayed increase in erythroblast production.

To directly test whether RAP-536 treatment affects reticulocyte development in blood, comparative blood transfusion experiments were performed. Biotinylated GFP+ blood from WT mice (C57BL/6-Tg(UBC-GFP)30Scha/J) and biotinylated GFP blood from th3/+ beta-thalassemic mice (B6.129P2-Hbb-b1tm1Unc Hbb-b2tm1Unc/J) were co-transfused into GFP WT recipient mice (C57BL/6J), which were subsequently treated with RAP-536 or vehicle. In the donor reticulocyte population, th3/+ reticulocyte percentage decreased continuously up to 3 days after transfusion, suggesting that many of the th3/+ reticulocytes were eliminated before they could form RBCs. However, compared with vehicle, RAP-536 treatment led to increased persistence of the relative percentages of th3/+ reticulocytes (Figure A). Consequently, 7 days after transfusion, when most reticulocytes have matured to RBCs, the percentage of th3/+ RBC among donor RBCs was higher with RAP-536 (Figure B). Finally, treatment of an alpha-thalassemia mouse model (129S-Hba-a1tm1Led/J) with RAP-536 10 mg/kg for 8 weeks increased RBCs and hematocrit and reduced serum bilirubin, compared with vehicle.

These results suggest that RAP-536 is, as previously shown, an erythroid maturation agent, which also modulates reticulocyte maturation in blood. In WT mice, RAP-536 modulated blood reticulocyte dynamics consistent with faster maturation. RAP-536 also prolonged the persistence of th3/+ reticulocytes and maintained a higher frequency of th3/+ RBCs. These data, together with the finding that RAP-536 reduces hemolysis in an experimental alpha-thalassemia disease model, suggest that luspatercept has the potential to improve anemias associated with hemolysis and/or reticulocytosis.

Disclosures

Acar:Bristol Myers Squibb: Ended employment in the past 24 months. Jupelli:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current Employment. Abbiati:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current Employment. Ramanathan:Acceleron Pharma: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company. Santini:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current equity holder in publicly-traded company, Ended employment in the past 24 months. Ratushny:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company. Dunshee:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current equity holder in publicly-traded company, Ended employment in the past 24 months; Genentech Inc.: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company. Lopes de Menezes:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company. MacBeth:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company. Suragani:Acceleron Pharma: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company. Loos:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company. Schwickart:Bristol Myers Squibb: Current Employment, Current equity holder in publicly-traded company.

Author notes

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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.