Molecular genetics of β-thalassemia: A narrative review

Medicine (Baltimore). 2021 Nov 12;100(45):e27522. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000027522.


β-thalassemia is a hereditary hematological disease caused by over 350 mutations in the β-globin gene (HBB). Identifying the genetic variants affecting fetal hemoglobin (HbF) production combined with the α-globin genotype provides some prediction of disease severity for β-thalassemia. However, the generation of an additive composite genetic risk score predicts prognosis, and guide management requires a larger panel of genetic modifiers yet to be discovered.Presently, using data from prior clinical trials guides the design of further research and academic studies based on gene augmentation, while fundamental insights into globin switching and new technology developments have inspired the investigation of novel gene therapy approaches.Genetic studies have successfully characterized the causal variants and pathways involved in HbF regulation, providing novel therapeutic targets for HbF reactivation. In addition to these HBB mutation-independent strategies involving HbF synthesis de-repression, the expanding genome editing toolkit provides increased accuracy to HBB mutation-specific strategies encompassing adult hemoglobin restoration for personalized treatment of hemoglobinopathies. Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation was, until very recently, the curative option available for patients with transfusion-dependent β-thalassemia. Gene therapy currently represents a novel therapeutic promise after many years of extensive preclinical research to optimize gene transfer protocols.We summarize the current state of developments in the molecular genetics of β-thalassemia over the last decade, including the mechanisms associated with ineffective erythropoiesis, which have also provided valid therapeutic targets, some of which have been shown as a proof-of-concept.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fetal Hemoglobin / genetics
  • Gene Editing
  • Hemoglobinopathies*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Biology
  • beta-Thalassemia* / genetics
  • beta-Thalassemia* / therapy


  • Fetal Hemoglobin