Transcriptional regulation of fetal to adult hemoglobin switching: new therapeutic opportunities
In humans, embryonic, fetal, and adult hemoglobins are sequentially expressed in developing erythroblasts during ontogeny. For the past 40 years, this process has been the subject of intensive study because of its value to enlighten the biology of developmental gene regulation and because fetal hemoglobin can significantly ameliorate the clinical manifestations of both sickle cell disease and β-thalassemia. Understanding the normal process of loss of fetal globin expression and activation of adult globin expression could potentially lead to new therapeutic approaches for these hemoglobin disorders. Herein, we briefly review the history of the study of hemoglobin switching and then focus on recent discoveries in the field that now make new therapeutic approaches seem feasible in the future. Erythroid-specific knockdown of fetal gene repressors or enforced expression of fetal gene activators may provide clinically applicable approaches for genetic treatment of hemoglobin disorders that would benefit from increased fetal hemoglobin levels.