Dimethyl fumarate increases fetal hemoglobin, provides heme detoxification, and corrects anemia in sickle cell disease

Sriram Krishnamoorthy, Betty Pace, Dipti Gupta, Sarah Sturtevant, Biaoru Li, Levi Makala, Julia Brittain, Nancy Moore, Benjamin F. Vieira, Timothy Thullen, Ivan Stone, Huo Li, William E. Hobbs, David R. Light

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Sickle cell disease (SCD) results from a point mutation in the β-globin gene forming hemoglobin S (HbS), which polymerizes in deoxygenated erythrocytes, triggering recurrent painful vaso-occlusive crises and chronic hemolytic anemia. Reactivation of fetal Hb (HbF) expression ameliorates these symptoms of SCD. Nuclear factor (erythroid derived-2)–like 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that triggers cytoprotective and antioxidant pathways to limit oxidative damage and inflammation and increases HbF synthesis in CD34+ stem cell–derived erythroid progenitors. We investigated the ability of dimethyl fumarate (DMF), a small-molecule Nrf2 agonist, to activate γ-globin transcription and enhance HbF in tissue culture and in murine and primate models. DMF recruited Nrf2 to the γ-globin promoters and the locus control region of the β-globin locus in erythroleukemia cells, elevated HbF in SCD donor–derived erythroid progenitors, and reduced hypoxia-induced sickling. Chronic DMF administration in SCD mice induced HbF and increased Nrf2-dependent genes to detoxify heme and limit inflammation. This improved hematological parameters, reduced plasma-free Hb, and attenuated inflammatory markers. Chronic DMF administration to nonanemic primates increased γ-globin mRNA in BM and HbF protein in rbc. DMF represents a potential therapy for SCD to induce HbF and augment vasoprotection and heme detoxification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere96409
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 19 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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