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April 2016


In human adult erythroid cells, lower than normal levels of Krüppel-like transcription factor 1 (KLF1) are generally associated with decreased adult β- and increased fetal γ-globin gene expression. KLF1 also regulates BCL11A, a known repressor of adult γ-globin expression. In seeming contrast to the findings in adult cells, lower amounts of KLF1 correlate with both reduced embryonic and reduced fetal β-like globin mRNA in mouse embryonic erythroid cells. The role of KLF1 in primary human fetal erythroid cells, which express both γ- and β-globin mRNA, is less well understood. Therefore, we studied the role of KLF1 in ex vivo differentiated CD34+ umbilical cord blood cells (UCB erythroblasts), representing the fetal milieu. In UCB erythroblasts, KLF1 binds to the β-globin locus control region (LCR), and the β-globin promoter. There is very little KLF1 binding detectable at the γ-globin promoter. Correspondingly, when cultured fetal UCB erythroblasts are subjected to lentiviral KLF1 knockdown, the active histone mark H3K4me3 and RNA pol II recruitment are diminished at the β- but not the γ-globin gene. The amount of KLF1 expression strongly positively correlates with β-globin mRNA and weakly positively correlates with BCL11A mRNA. With modest KLF1 knockdown, mimicking haploinsufficiency, γ-globin mRNA is increased in UCB erythroblasts, as is common in adult cells. However, a threshold level of KLF1 is evidently required, or there is no absolute increase in γ-globin mRNA in UCB erythroblasts. Therefore, the role of KLF1 in γ-globin regulation in fetal erythroblasts is complex, with both positive and negative facets. Furthermore, in UCB erythroblasts, diminished BCL11A is not sufficient to induce γ-globin in the absence of KLF1. These findings have implications for the manipulation of BCL11A and/or KLF1 to induce γ-globin for therapy of the β-hemoglobinopathies.


© 2016 Vinjamur et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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VCU Human and Molecular Genetics Publications (237 kB)