NRF2 mediates γ-globin gene regulation through epigenetic modifications in a β-YAC transgenic mouse model

Xingguo Zhu, Caixia Xi, Alexander Ward, Mayuko Takezaki, Huidong Shi, Kenneth R. Peterson, Betty S. Pace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


NRF2 is the master regulator for the cellular oxidative stress response and regulates γ-globin gene expression in human erythroid progenitors and sickle cell disease mice. To explore NRF2 function, we established a human β-globin locus yeast artificial chromosome transgenic/NRF2 knockout (β-YAC/NRF2−/−) mouse model. NRF2 loss reduced γ-globin gene expression during erythropoiesis and abolished the ability of dimethyl fumarate, an NRF2 activator, to enhance γ-globin transcription. We observed decreased H3K4Me1 and H3K4Me3 chromatin marks and association of TATA-binding protein and RNA polymerase II at the β-locus control region (LCR) and γ-globin gene promoters in β-YAC/NRF2−/− mice. As a result, long-range chromatin interaction between the LCR DNase I hypersensitive sites and γ-globin gene was decreased, while interaction with the β-globin was not affected. Further, NRF2 loss silenced the expression of DNA methylcytosine dioxygenases TET1, TET2, and TET3 and inhibited γ-globin gene DNA hydroxymethylation. Subsequently, protein-protein interaction between NRF2 and TET3 was demonstrated. These data support the ability of NRF2 to mediate γ-globin gene regulation through epigenetic DNA and histone modifications. Impact statement: Sickle cell disease is an inherited hemoglobin disorder that affects over 100,000 people in the United States causing high morbidity and early mortality. Although new treatments were recently approved by the FDA, only one drug Hydroxyurea induces fetal hemoglobin expression to inhibit sickle hemoglobin polymerization in red blood cells. Our laboratory previously demonstrated the ability of the NRF2 activator, dimethyl fumarate to induce fetal hemoglobin in the sickle cell mouse model. In this study, we investigated molecular mechanisms of γ-globin gene activation by NRF2. We observed the ability of NRF2 to modulate chromatin structure in the human β-like globin gene locus of β-YAC transgenic mice during development. Furthermore, an NRF2/TET3 interaction regulates γ-globin gene DNA methylation. These findings provide potential new molecular targets for small molecule drug developed for treating sickle cell disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1308-1318
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number15
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • NRF2
  • chromatin
  • epigenetic modification
  • fetal hemoglobin
  • β-YAC mouse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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