In this report we examine the (AC)n(AT)xTy motif residing -530 bp 5' upstream of the beta-globin gene in Chinese thalassaemic patients. This motif is a putative binding site for a repressor protein, termed beta protein 1 (BP1) (Berg et al., Nucleic Acids Res 1989;17:8833-8852). Variations in the (AC)n(AT)xTy repeats affect the binding affinity of BP1, thereby altering the expression of the beta-globin gene. Eight different configurations of this repeat motif are identified in our population of Chinese beta-thalassaemia patients. A (AC)3(AT)7T5 motif was identified among these thalassaemia patients and its influence in beta-globin gene expression was studied using stable transfection assay in murine erythroleukemia (MEL) cells. Our data demonstrated that the (AC)3(AT)7T5 motif has a moderately strong repressor effect on the expression of the cis-linked beta-globin gene. The high affinity of BP1 for this motif may result in the suppression of the transcription of the beta-globin gene (Berg et al., Am J Hematol 1991;36:42-47). We postulate that silencer elements in the beta-globin promoter play an important role in modifying the clinical presentation of the disease.
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