We have previously described an English family with gamma delta beta- thalassemia in which a large deletion stops 25 kilobases (kb) upstream from the beta-globin gene locus, and yet the beta-globin gene is inactive in vivo. Affected family members had a beta-thalassemia minor phenotype with a normal hemoglobin A2 level. Gene mapping showed that these subjects were heterozygous for a chromosome bearing a large deletion that began in the G gamma-globin gene, extended through the epsilon-globin gene, and continued upstream for at least 75 kb. The A gamma-, delta-, and beta-globin gene loci on this chromosome were intact. To examine the possibility that an additional defect was present in the beta-globin gene, we cloned, sequenced, and examined the expression of the beta-globin gene from the affected chromosome. No mutation was found in the beta-globin gene sequence from 990 base-pairs 5′ to the cap site to 350 basepairs 3′ to the polyadenylation signal. The gene was subcloned into an expression vector and introduced into HeLa cells. Analysis of RNA derived from these cells, using a ribonuclease protection assay, revealed qualitatively and quantitatively normal transcription. Thus a structurally and functionally normal beta-globin gene is inactive in the presence of a large deletion more than 25 kb upstream. The loss of beta-globin gene function may be due to disturbance of chromatin conformation caused by the deletion or may be the result of loss of upstream sequences that are necessary for beta-globin gene expression in vivo.

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