Naturally occurring, large deletions in the beta-globin locus result in hereditary persistence of fetal hemoglobin, a condition that mitigates the clinical severity of sickle cell disease (SCD) and beta-thalassemia. We designed a clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) (CRISPR/Cas9) strategy to disrupt a 13.6-kb genomic region encompassing the delta- and beta-globin genes and a putative gamma-delta intergenic fetal hemoglobin (HbF) silencer. Disruption of just the putative HbF silencer results in a mild increase in gamma-globin expression, whereas deletion or inversion of a 13.6-kb region causes a robust reactivation of HbF synthesis in adult erythroblasts that is associated with epigenetic modifications and changes in chromatin contacts within the beta-globin locus. In primary SCD patient-derived hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, targeting the 13.6-kb region results in a high proportion of gamma-globin expression in erythroblasts, increased HbF synthesis, and amelioration of the sickling cell phenotype. Overall, this study provides clues for a potential CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing approach to the therapy of beta-hemoglobinopathies.
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