Targeting Genetic Modifiers of HBG Gene Expression in Sickle Cell Disease: The miRNA Option

Athena Starlard-Davenport, Qingqing Gu, Betty S. Pace

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Sickle cell disease (SCD) is one of the most common inherited hemoglobinopathy disorders that affects millions of people worldwide. Reactivation of HBG (HBG1, HBG2) gene expression and induction of fetal hemoglobin (HbF) is an important therapeutic strategy for ameliorating the clinical symptoms and severity of SCD. Hydroxyurea is the only US FDA-approved drug with proven efficacy to induce HbF in SCD patients, yet serious complications have been associated with its use. Over the last three decades, numerous additional pharmacological agents that reactivate HBG transcription in vitro have been investigated, but few have proceeded to FDA approval, with the exception of arginine butyrate and decitabine; however, neither drug met the requirements for routine clinical use due to difficulties with oral delivery and inability to achieve therapeutic levels. Thus, novel approaches that produce sufficient efficacy, specificity, and sustainable HbF induction with low adverse effects are desirable. More recently, microRNAs (miRNAs) have gained attention for their diagnostic and therapeutic potential to treat various diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease via targeting oncogenes and their gene products. Thus, it is plausible that miRNAs that target HBG regulatory genes may be useful for inducing HbF as a treatment for SCD. Our laboratory and others have documented the association of miRNAs with HBG activation or suppression via silencing transcriptional repressors and activators, respectively, of HBG expression. Herein, we review progress made in understanding molecular mechanisms of miRNA-mediated HBG regulation and discuss the extent to which molecular targets of HBG might be suitable prospects for development of SCD clinical therapy. Lastly, we discuss challenges with the application of miRNA delivery in vivo and provide potential strategies for overcoming barriers in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-509
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Diagnosis and Therapy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Pharmacology


Dive into the research topics of 'Targeting Genetic Modifiers of HBG Gene Expression in Sickle Cell Disease: The miRNA Option'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this