There is decreased beta-globin production in beta-thalassemic reticulocytes and nucleated erythroid cells. In this study, we have examined whether unbalanced globin synthesis is expressed at all stages of human erythroid cell maturation. In order to determine the pattern of globin synthesis in early erythroid cells during erythroid cell maturation, an in vitro culture system using human bone marrow erythroid precursor cells has been developed. Early erythroid precursor cells (proerythroblasts and basophilic erythroblasts) have been isolated from nonthalassemic and thalassemic human bone marrows by lysing more mature erythroid cells, using complement and a rabbit antiserum prepared against normal human red cells. In the presence of erythropoietin, differentiation and proliferation of erythroid cells in demonstrable in liquid suspension culture for 24–48 hr, as determined by morphological criteria and by an increase in globin synthesis. The ratio of alpha- to beta-globin chain synthesis in nonthalassemic cells in approximately 1 at all stages of erythroid cell differentiation during culture. In cells from four patients with homozygous beta- thalassemia there is decreased beta-globin synthesis compared to alpha- globin synthesis, both in early erythroid precursor cells and during their maturation in culture. These findings indicate that unbalanced globin chain synthesis is expressed at all stages of red cell maturation in homozygous beta-thalassemia.

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