Phenotypic-screening generates active novel fetal globin-inducers that downregulate Bcl11a in a monkey model

Biochem Pharmacol. 2020 Jan;171:113717. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2019.113717. Epub 2019 Nov 18.


Heritable disorders associated with hemoglobin production are the most common monogenic disorders. These are mainly represented by disorders such as β-thalassemia and sickle cell disease. Induction of fetal hemoglobin (HbF) has been known to ameliorate the clinical severity of these β hemoglobinopathies. A high throughput phenotypic screening was used in this study to isolate novel compounds that may enhance the expression of γ-globin, the component of HbF, in human erythroid cell lines and primary erythroid progenitors derived from human CD34+ cells. The effect of lead compounds on epigenetic enzymes and key transcriptional factors was evaluated to identify their mode of action. One hit compound was further evaluated in vivo using monkey models. Among the ~18,000 compounds screened, 18 compounds were selected and tested to determine their ability to induce HbF in human erythroid cell lines and primary erythroid cells. One of these compounds, a 3-phenyl-isoxazole derivative, could potentially induce HbF in monkey bone marrow cells when administered orally. The compound downregulated negative transcriptional regulators of HbF, Bcl11a and LRF without inhibiting the known epigenetic enzymes. These studies demonstrated the advantages associated with phenotype-screening and identified novel fetal globin inducers that may be useful for treating hemoglobinopathies.

Keywords: Globin-switching; Phenotype screening; Sickle cell disease; β-Thalassemia; γ-Globin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD34 / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Erythroblasts / cytology
  • Erythroblasts / drug effects
  • Erythroblasts / metabolism
  • Fetal Hemoglobin / genetics*
  • Fetal Hemoglobin / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Hemoglobinopathies / genetics*
  • Hemoglobinopathies / metabolism
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / methods
  • Humans
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Phenotype
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Xenobiotics / pharmacology*
  • Zinc Fingers*


  • Antigens, CD34
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Xenobiotics
  • Fetal Hemoglobin