April 20, 2022

New publication by the Engel Lab!


  • New target genes for γ-globin induction identified among all current potential therapeutic agents in an erythroid-biased CRISPR screen
  • Top novel drug candidates and pathways for fetal hemoglobin induction examined and validated


Human γ-globin is predominantly expressed in fetal liver erythroid cells during gestation from two nearly identical genes, HBG1 and HBG2, that are both perinatally silenced. Reactivation of these fetal genes in adult red blood cells can ameliorate many symptoms associated with the inherited β-globinopathies, sickle cell disease (SCD) and Cooley's anemia. While promising genetic strategies to reactivate the γ-globin genes to treat these diseases have been explored, there are significant barriers to their effective implementation worldwide; alternatively, pharmacological induction of γ-globin synthesis could readily reach the majority of affected individuals. In this study, we generated a CRISPR knockout library that targeted all erythroid genes for which prospective or actual therapeutic compounds already exist. By probing this library for genes that repress fetal hemoglobin (HbF), we identified several novel, potentially druggable, γ-globin repressors, including VHL and PTEN. We demonstrate that deletion of VHL induces HbF through activation of the HIF1α pathway and that deletion of PTEN induces HbF through AKT pathway stimulation. Finally, we show that small molecule inhibitors of PTEN and EZH induce HbF in both healthy and β-thalassemic human primary erythroid cells.