Forced chromatin looping raises fetal hemoglobin in adult sickle cells to higher levels than pharmacologic inducers

Laura Breda, Irene Motta, Silvia Lourenco, Chiara Gemmo, Wulan Deng, Jeremy W. Rupon, Osheiza Y. Abdulmalik, Deepa Manwani, Gerd A. Blobel and Stefano Rivella

Key Points

  • Ldb1 transcription factor self-association domain fused to γ-globin promoter-specific ZF protein increases HbF, reduces HbS in hSCD cells.

  • In vitro reactivation of HbF mediated by ZF-Ldb1 exceeds pharmacologic treatment in adult hSCD cells.


Overcoming the silencing of the fetal γ-globin gene has been a long-standing goal in the treatment of sickle cell disease (SCD). The major transcriptional enhancer of the β-globin locus, called the locus control region (LCR), dynamically interacts with the developmental stage-appropriate β-type globin genes via chromatin looping, a process requiring the protein Ldb1. In adult erythroid cells, the LCR can be redirected from the adult β- to the fetal γ-globin promoter by tethering Ldb1 to the human γ-globin promoter with custom-designed zinc finger (ZF) proteins (ZF-Ldb1), leading to reactivation of γ-globin gene expression. To compare this approach to pharmacologic reactivation of fetal hemoglobin (HbF), hematopoietic cells from patients with SCD were treated with a lentivirus expressing the ZF-Ldb1 or with chemical HbF inducers. The HbF increase in cells treated with ZF-Ldb1 was more than double that observed with decitabine and pomalidomide; butyrate had an intermediate effect whereas tranylcypromine and hydroxyurea showed relatively low HbF reactivation. ZF-Ldb1 showed comparatively little toxicity, and reduced sickle hemoglobin (HbS) synthesis as well as sickling of SCD erythroid cells under hypoxic conditions. The efficacy and low cytotoxicity of lentiviral-mediated ZF-Ldb1 gene transfer compared with the drug regimens support its therapeutic potential for the treatment of SCD.

  • Submitted January 7, 2016.
  • Accepted June 18, 2016.
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