The importance of erythroid expansion in determining the extent of apoptosis in erythroid precursors in patients with beta-thalassemia major

Blood. 2000 Nov 15;96(10):3624-9.


Beta-thalassemia major is characterized by ineffective erythropoiesis leading to severe anemia and extensive erythroid expansion. The ineffective erythropoiesis is in part due to accelerated apoptosis of the thalassemic erythroid precursors; however, the extent of apoptosis is surprisingly variable. To understand this variability as well as the fact that some patients undergoing allogeneic marrow transplantation are resistant to the myeloablative program, we attempted more quantitative analyses. Two groups of patients totaling 44 were studied, along with 25 healthy controls, and 7 patients with hemolysis and/or ineffective erythropoeisis. By 2 flow cytometric methods, thalassemic erythroid precursors underwent apoptosis at a rate that was 3 to 4 times normal. Because thalassemic marrow has between 5- to 6-fold more erythroid precursors than healthy marrow, this translated into an absolute increase in erythroid precursor apoptosis of about 15-fold above our healthy controls. In searching for the causes of the variability in thalassemic erythroid precursor apoptosis, we discovered tight direct correlations between the relative and absolute extent of apoptosis and the extent of erythroid expansion as measured either by the absolute number of marrow erythroid precursors or by serum soluble transferrin receptor levels. These results could mean that the most extreme rates of erythroid proliferation lend themselves to cellular errors that turn on apoptotic programs. Alternatively, extreme rates of erythroid hyperplasia and apoptosis might be characteristic of more severely affected patients. Lastly, extreme erythroid hyperplasia could generate such numbers of apoptotic erythroid precursors that marrow macrophages are overwhelmed, leaving more apoptotic cells in the sample.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Division
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Erythroid Precursor Cells / immunology
  • Erythroid Precursor Cells / physiology*
  • Erythropoiesis / physiology
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia / blood
  • Hyperplasia / physiopathology
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / blood
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • beta-Thalassemia / blood*
  • beta-Thalassemia / pathology
  • beta-Thalassemia / physiopathology


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens