MIR-144-mediated NRF2 gene silencing inhibits fetal hemoglobin expression in sickle cell disease

Biaoru Li, Xingguo Zhu, Christina M. Ward, Athena Starlard-Davenport, Mayuko Takezaki, Amber Berry, Alexander Ward, Caroline Wilder, Cindy Neunert, Abdullah Kutlar, Betty Sue Pace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Inherited genetic modifiers and pharmacologic agents that enhance fetal hemoglobin (HbF) expression reverse the clinical severity of sickle cell disease (SCD). Recent efforts to develop novel strategies of HbF induction include discovery of molecular targets that regulate γ-globin gene transcription and translation. The purpose of this study was to perform genome-wide microRNA (miRNA) analysis to identify genes associated with HbF expression in patients with SCD. We isolated RNA from purified reticulocytes for microarray-based miRNA expression profiling. Using samples from patients with contrasting HbF levels, we observed an eightfold upregulation of miR-144-3p (miR-144) and miR-144-5p in the low-HbF group compared with those with high HbF. Additional analysis by reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction confirmed individual miR-144 expression levels of subjects in the two groups. Subsequent functional studies in normal and sickle erythroid progenitors showed NRF2 gene silencing by miR-144 and concomitant repression of γ-globin transcription; by contrast, treatment with miR-144 antagomir reversed its silencing effects in a dose-dependent manner. Because NRF2 regulates reactive oxygen species levels, additional studies investigated mechanisms of HbF regulation using a hemin-induced oxidative stress model. Treatment of KU812 cells with hemin produced an increase in NRF2 expression and HbF induction that reversed with miR-144 pretreatment. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assay confirmed NRF2 binding to the γ-globin antioxidant response element, which was inhibited by miR-144 mimic treatment. The genome-wide miRNA microarray and primary erythroid progenitor data support a miR-144/NRF2-mediated mechanism of γ-globin gene regulation in SCD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-96.e5
JournalExperimental Hematology
StatePublished - Feb 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Hematology
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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