Background: Sickle cell trait, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency and alpha-thalassemia trait are common genetic abnormalities among the American Black population. Under oxidative stress, the presence of any of these conditions would predispose the hemoglobin (Hb) to oxidation resulting in accelerated methemoglobin (metHb) formation. It was hypothesized that red cells phenotypic for these genetic variants should have more or different levels of metHb reductase (cytochrome b5 reductase) activity.
Methods: To test this hypothesis, we measured the red cell metHb reductase activity in 558 male subjects (316 Blacks and 242 Whites), by the procedure described by Beutler. All Black patients also had G6PD spot test and Hb electrophoresis. In addition, all patients had a complete blood count (CBC). If the hematocrit was < 35% a reticulocyte count was also done. Patients with corrected reticulocyte (retic count X hematocrit/45) index over 2% were excluded regardless of other findings.
Results: The results showed that Blacks had different metHb reductase activity levels than Whites (mean = 3.19 vs 2.89 IU/gHb, respectively with p = 0.03). However, the differences in metHb reductase activities in patients with sickle cell trait, G6PD deficiency, and low MCV < 80 micron3 (presumptively having alpha-thalassemia) in small subgroups did not reach statistical significance (p = 0.2), although, all 3 groups were comprised of small numbers.
Conclusions: It is concluded that American Blacks have significantly different metHb reductase activity. The different metHb reductase activity in Blacks seems to be unrelated to the presence of G6PD deficiency, sickle cell trait, or alpha-thalassemia and it may be the result of genetic polymorphism. However, our study samples do not exactly represent the cross-sections of the Black and White populations. In addition, all patients were male in this study. Therefore, this study should be confirmed using larger and more population-representative samples. The clinical significance of this problem is not clear at this time.