Induction of fetal haemoglobin expression in erythroid cells--a model based on iron availability signalling

Med Hypotheses. 2005;65(5):932-6. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2005.02.046.


The K562 cell line has erythroid origin and is used for the study of fetal haemoglobin (HbF) production after treatment with several drugs, such as hydroxyurea, cisplatin and cytosine arabinoside (Ara C). It represents an important tool for the study of cancer differentiation therapy and treatment of thalassaemia and sickle cell disease. Although subject to intense research, the mechanisms involved in the induction of HbF are not fully established, and the regulation of several genes and signalling pathways has been proposed. Using the methodology of differential display, we investigated the changes in gene expression in K562 cells treated with doxorubicin and aclarubicin, which induce HbF expression and cell cycle arrest. Several genes were shown to present differential expression patterns, many of them related to the iron signalling pathway. Particular attention was given to Ndrg1, expressed as early as 24 h after treatment, which can be regulated by iron and is involved with blocking of the cell cycle. A review of the literature shows that, similar to doxorubicin and aclarubicin, most of the drugs used to induce HbF present some kind of effect on the iron signalling pathway, activating in the cells the machinery necessary for the incorporation of extracellular iron. Considering these results, as well as the fact that in erythroid cells the synthesis of haemoglobin is of vital importance, we propose that the production of fetal haemoglobin in erythroid cells is highly dependent on the iron signalling pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aclarubicin / administration & dosage*
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / administration & dosage
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Doxorubicin / administration & dosage*
  • Fetal Hemoglobin / biosynthesis*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • K562 Cells
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Aclarubicin
  • Doxorubicin
  • Fetal Hemoglobin