Session: 112. Thalassemia and Globin Gene Regulation: Targeted Engineering of Globin Gene Expression
Recent insights into the regulation of γ-globin transcription by a network of transcription factors and regulatory elements both inside and outside the β-globin locus have revealed a set of new molecular targets, the modulation of which is expected to elevate γ-globin levels for potential therapeutic intervention. To this end, we and others have established that designed zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) transiently introduced into stem cells ex vivo provide a safe and efficient way to permanently ablate the expression of a specific target gene in hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) by introduction of mutations following target site cleavage and error-prone DNA repair.
Here we report the development and comparison of different ZFNs that target various regulators of γ-globin gene transcription in human HSCs: Bcl11a, Klf1, and specific positions in the γ-globin promoters that result in hereditary persistence of fetal hemoglobin (HPFH). In all cases these target sites / transcription factors have previously been identified as crucial repressors of γ-globin expression in humans, as well as by in vitro and in vivo experiments using human erythroid cells and mouse models. ZFN pairs with very high genome editing activity in CD34+ HSCs were identified for all targeted sites (>75% of alleles modified). In vitro differentiation of these ZFN-treated CD34+ HSCs into erythroid cells resulted in potent elevation of γ-globin mRNA and protein levels without significant effects on erythroid development. Importantly, a similar and specific elevation of γ-globin levels was observed with RBC progeny of genome-edited CD34+ cells obtained from SCD and β-thal patients. Notably, in the latter case a normalization of the β-like to α-globin ratio to ~1.0 was observed in RBCs obtained from genome-edited CD34s from two individuals with β-thalassemia major.
To deploy this strategy in a clinical setting, we developed protocols that yielded comparably high levels of target gene editing in mobilized adult CD34+ cells at large scale (>108 cells) using a clinical-grade electroporation device to deliver mRNA encoding the ZFN pair. Analysis of modification at the most likely off-target sites based on ZFN binding properties, combined with the maintenance of target genome editing observed throughout erythroid differentiation (and in isolated erythroid colonies) demonstrated that the ZFNs were both highly specific and well-tolerated when deployed at clinical scale. Finally, to assess the stemness of the genome-edited CD34+ HSCs we performed transplantation experiments in immunodeficient mice which revealed long term engraftment of the modified cells (>16 weeks, ~25% human chimerism in mouse bone marrow) with maintenance of differentiation in vivo. Moreover, ex vivo erythroid differentiation of human precursor cells isolated from the bone marrow of transplanted animals confirmed the expected elevation of γ-globin.
Taken together, these data suggest that a therapeutic level of γ-globin elevation can be obtained by the selective disruption, at the genome level, of specific regulators of the fetal to adult globin developmental switch. The ability to perform this modification at scale, with full retention of HSC engraftment and differentiation in vivo, provides a foundation for advancing this approach to a clinical trial for the hemoglobinopathies.
Disclosures: Reik: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Zhou: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Lee: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Truong: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Wood: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Zhang: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Luong: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Chan: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Liu: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Miller: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Paschon: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Guschin: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Zhang: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Giedlin: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Rebar: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Gregory: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment. Urnov: Sangamo BioSciences: Employment.
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