Domain-focused CRISPR screen identifies HRI as a fetal hemoglobin regulator in human erythroid cells

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Science  20 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6399, pp. 285-290
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao0932

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A CRISPR screen for RBC regulators

Hemoglobin in red blood cells (RBCs) carries oxygen to the tissues. Sickle cell disease is an inherited condition that involves abnormal hemoglobin. Current treatments entail modulating the level of fetal hemoglobin expression. Grevet et al. performed a CRISPR-Cas9 screen for regulators of fetal hemoglobin in RBCs and identified heme-regulated eIF2α kinase (HRI). Depleting the kinase in RBCs led to an increase in fetal hemoglobin levels and reduced sickling of cultured human RBCs. Thus, HRI may be a therapeutic target for sickle cell disease and other hemoglobin disorders.

Science, this issue p. 285


Increasing fetal hemoglobin (HbF) levels in adult red blood cells provides clinical benefit to patients with sickle cell disease and some forms of β-thalassemia. To identify potentially druggable HbF regulators in adult human erythroid cells, we employed a protein kinase domain–focused CRISPR-Cas9–based genetic screen with a newly optimized single-guide RNA scaffold. The screen uncovered the heme-regulated inhibitor HRI (also known as EIF2AK1), an erythroid-specific kinase that controls protein translation, as an HbF repressor. HRI depletion markedly increased HbF production in a specific manner and reduced sickling in cultured erythroid cells. Diminished expression of the HbF repressor BCL11A accounted in large part for the effects of HRI depletion. Taken together, these results suggest HRI as a potential therapeutic target for hemoglobinopathies.

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