Embryonic and fetal globins are expressed in adult erythroid progenitor cells and in erythroid cell cultures

Prenat Diagn. 2001 Jul;21(7):529-39. doi: 10.1002/pd.81.


The understanding of human hemoglobin ontogeny during development is of biological and clinical importance. Molecular and immunocytological techniques were used to study the expression of embryonic zeta (zeta), epsilon (epsilon), and fetal gamma (gamma) globin genes in newborn cord blood, peripheral blood from men, pregnant and non-pregnant women, and in vitro mononuclear cell cultures. We have shown that embryonic and fetal globin mRNA and peptides are expressed in cultured erythroid cells and in circulating blood cells from newborns, adult non-pregnant women and from men. The findings suggest that during erythroid cell differentiation in newborns and adults, there is a transient recapitulation of sequential globin chain expression as found during embryonic and fetal development. Furthermore, these findings underscore the need for caution in using embryonic and fetal globin chains as markers to identify erythroid cells of fetal origin in maternal circulation for prenatal diagnosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA Primers
  • Erythroid Precursor Cells*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood
  • Fetal Hemoglobin / genetics*
  • Fetal Hemoglobin / immunology
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Gestational Age
  • Globins / genetics*
  • Globins / immunology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • RNA, Messenger / isolation & purification
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Globins
  • Fetal Hemoglobin