β-Hemoglobinopathies can trigger rapid production of red blood cells in a process known as stress erythropoiesis. Cellular stress prompts differentiating erythroid precursors to express high levels of fetal γ-globin. However, the mechanisms underlying γ-globin production during cellular stress are still poorly defined. Here, we use CRISPR-Cas genome editing to model the stress caused by reduced levels of adult β-globin. We find that decreased β-globin is sufficient to induce robust re-expression of γ-globin, and RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) of differentiating isogenic erythroid precursors implicates ATF4 as a causal regulator of this response. ATF4 binds within the HBS1L-MYB intergenic enhancer and regulates expression of MYB, a known γ-globin regulator. Overall, the reduction of ATF4 upon β-globin knockout decreases the levels of MYB and BCL11A. Identification of ATF4 as a key regulator of globin compensation adds mechanistic insight to the poorly understood phenomenon of stress-induced globin compensation and could inform strategies to treat hemoglobinopathies.
Keywords: BCL11A; CRISPR/Cas9; Fetal hemoglobin; HBS1L-MYB; adult hemoglobin; gene editing; hemoglobinopathies; stress erythropoiesis.
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