Increasing the expression of the gamma globin genes is considered a useful therapeutic approach to the beta globin diseases. Because butyrate and alpha-amino-n-butyric acid (ABA) augment gamma globin expression in normal neonatal and adult erythroid progenitors, we investigated the effects of sodium butyrate and ABA on erythroid progenitors of patients with beta thalassemia and sickle cell anemia who might benefit from such an effect. Both substances increased fetal hemoglobin (Hb F) expression in Bfu-e from 7% to 30% above levels found in control cultures from the same subjects with sickle cell anemia. The fraction of cultured erythroblasts producing Hb F increased more than 20% with sodium butyrate treatment in 70% of cultures. In most cultures, this produced greater than 20% total Hb F and greater than 70% F cells, levels which have been considered beneficial in ameliorating clinical symptoms. Alpha: non-alpha (alpha-non-alpha) imbalance was decreased by 36% in erythroid progenitors of patients with beta thalassemia cultured in the presence of butyrate compared with control cultures from the same subjects. These data suggest that sodium butyrate may have therapeutic potential for increasing gamma globin expression in the beta globin diseases.

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