Hemoglobin switching protocols in thalassemia. Experience with sodium phenylbutyrate and hydroxyurea

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1998 Jun 30;850:80-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1998.tb10465.x.


Homozygous beta thalassemia affects thousands of people around the world. Current management of this condition includes regular transfusion of red cells, which leads to transfusional iron overload requiring chelation therapy: increasing hemoglobin levels while decreasing or eliminating iron overload is therefore a major therapeutic goal in the treatment of thalassemia. Bone marrow transplantation may achieve this goal, but it is not an option for most patients. This study reports on efforts to increase gamma-globin transcription and HbF production using sodium phenylbutyrate (SPB) and hydroxyurea (HU). It was found that 36% (4/11) of all patients or 50% (4/8) of non-transfused patients responded to SPB (increase in Hb levels of 1 g/dL). A positive correlation between baseline serum erythropoietin level and likelihood of response to SPB was observed. Since HU may also increase HbF production, evaluation of combination therapy with these drugs is underway and preliminary results are reported.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antisickling Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Blood Transfusion
  • Erythropoietin / blood
  • Fetal Hemoglobin / biosynthesis*
  • Globins / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / therapeutic use*
  • Phenylbutyrates / therapeutic use*
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • beta-Thalassemia / blood
  • beta-Thalassemia / drug therapy*


  • Antisickling Agents
  • Phenylbutyrates
  • Erythropoietin
  • Globins
  • Fetal Hemoglobin
  • Hydroxyurea