The recently completed BABY HUG trial investigated the safety and efficacy of hydroxyurea in infants with sickle cell anemia (SCA). To investigate the effects of known genetic modifiers, genomic DNA on 190 randomized subjects were analyzed for alpha thalassemia, beta-globin haplotype, polymorphisms affecting endogenous fetal hemoglobin (HbF) levels (XmnI, BCL11A, and HBS1L-MYB), UGT1A1 promoter polymorphisms, and the common G6PD A- mutation. At study entry, infants with alpha thalassemia trait had significantly lower mean corpuscular volume, total bilirubin, and absolute reticulocyte count. Beta-globin haplotypes associated with milder disease had significantly higher hemoglobin and %HbF. BCL11A and XmnI polymorphisms had significant effects on baseline HbF, while UGT1A1 promoter polymorphisms significantly influenced baseline serum bilirubin. At study exit, subjects randomized to placebo still exhibited laboratory effects of alpha thalassemia and other modifiers, while those assigned hydroxyurea had treatment effects that exceeded most genetic influences. The pain phenotype was influenced by HbF modifiers in both treatment groups. These data document that genetic polymorphisms do modify laboratory and clinical phenotypes even in very young patients with SCA. The hydroxyurea effects are more potent, however, indicating that treatment criteria should not be limited to certain genetic subsets, and supporting the use of hydroxyurea for all young patients with SCA.
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