Diamond-blackfan anemia: etiology, pathophysiology, and treatment

Am J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 1989 Winter;11(4):380-94.


Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA) is manifested by a wide variety of clinical and in vitro abnormalities. Despite this biological diversity, the hematological phenotype is remarkably similar for all patients and consists of a normochromic-macrocytic anemia in early childhood, reticulocytopenia, and a normocellular marrow with a selective deficiency of red cell precursors. Fetal hemoglobin is usually increased, distributed heterogeneously, has a fetal G gamma/A gamma pattern, and is associated with increased expression of red cell i antigen. Although most cases are sporadic, there are examples of autosomal recessive and autosomal dominant inheritance patterns. Approximately 70% of patients with DBA respond to prednisone, and many can be maintained on tapered doses. Those who are steroid-dependent at high dosage as well as those who do not respond are managed on a transfusion and iron chelation program. Claims of efficacy for other therapies, such as cyclosporine or high-dose intravenous methylprednisolone, require substantiation. Bone marrow transplantation has been successfully performed in patients who have tissue-matched donors, and the procedure cures the anemia. Recombinant growth factors may be a therapy of the future. Regarding pathophysiology, initial reports of humoral or cellular inhibitors of erythropoiesis were not confirmed in all laboratories. However, some patients have lymphocyte dysfunction with decreased T cells, decreased T4/T8 ratios, and defective lymphocyte-mediated suppression of lymphoproliferation. A large body of data indicates that the erythroid stem cells are intrinsically defective in DBA, and they are partly or completely refractory to erythropoietin. The role of elevated red cell adenosine deaminase activity in the pathogenesis of this abnormal erythropoiesis is not clear, but this finding is characteristic of the syndrome in most patients. Present studies using recombinant growth factors have demonstrated a diversity of defects in erythropoiesis in patients with DBA. Blocks in red cell production and red cell maturation were seen at various levels along the differentiation pathway. Of clinical interest, interleukin-3 has a corrective effect in vitro on the aberrant marrow erythropoiesis of steroid-refractory patients, and, hence, it may have therapeutic application.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Anemia, Aplastic / congenital*
  • Anemia, Aplastic / etiology
  • Anemia, Aplastic / physiopathology
  • Anemia, Aplastic / therapy
  • Blood Transfusion*
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Prognosis


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones