Hemoglobin A2 (HbA2; alpha 2 delta 2) is a powerful inhibitor of HbS (alpha 2 beta 2(3)) polymerization. However, HbA2 levels are normally low in sickle cell patients. We show that a major reason for low delta- globin gene expression is the defective CACCC box at -90 in the delta-globin promoter. When the CACCC box defect in delta is corrected, expression of an HS2 delta /Luciferase reporter is equivalent to HS2 beta/Luciferase. Erythroid Krupple-like factor (EKLF), which binds to the CACCC box of the beta-globin gene and activates high-level expression, does not bind to the normal delta-globin promoter. Our goal is to design a modified EKLF that binds to the defective delta-globin promoter and enhances delta-globin gene expression. To test the feasibility of this strategy, we inserted the beta-globin CACCC box at - 90 of the delta-globin gene promoter to produce an HS2 delta CAC-beta construct and quantitated human delta-and beta-globin mRNA in stably transformed murine erythroleukemia (MEL) cells. delta-Globin mRNA in these cells was 22.0% +/- 9.0% of total human globin mRNA (delta/delta + beta) as compared with 3.0% +/- 1.3% in the HS2 delta-beta control. In a second set of experiments a GAL4 DNA-binding site was inserted at - 90 of the delta-globin gene to produce an HS2 delta GAL4-beta construct. This construct and a GAL4(1–147)/EKLF expression vector were stably transfected into MEL cells. delta-Globin mRNA in these cells was 27.8% +/- 7.1% of total human globin mRNA as compared with 9.9% +/- 2.5% in the HS2 delta GAL4-beta plus GAL4(1–147) control. These results show that delta-globin gene expression can be significantly increased by a modified EKLF. Based on these results, we suggest that modified EKLFs, which contain zinc fingers designed to bind specifically to the defective delta-globin CACCC box, may be useful in gene therapy approaches to increase HbA2 levels and inhibit HbS polymerization.

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