Orally bioactive compounds that induce γ globin gene expression at tolerable doses are needed for optimal treatment of the β-hemoglobinopathies. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) of 2 to 6 carbons in length induce γ globin expression in animal models, and butyrate, phenylbutyrate, and valproate induce γ globin in human patients. The usefulness of these compounds, however, is limited by requirements for large doses because of their rapid metabolism and their tendency to inhibit cell proliferation, which limits the pool of erythroid progenitors in which γ globin can be induced. Selected short-chain fatty acid derivatives (SCFADs) were recently found to induce γ globin and to stimulate the proliferation of hematopoietic cells in vitro. These SCFADs are now evaluated in vivo in nonanemic transgenic mice containing the human β globin gene locus and in anemic phlebotomized baboons. In mice treated with a SCFAD once daily for 5 days, γ globin mRNA increased 2-fold, reticulocytes increased 3- to 7-fold, and hematocrit levels increased by 27%. Administration of 3 SCFADs in anemic baboons increased F-reticulocytes 2- to 15-fold over baseline and increased total hemoglobin levels by 1 to 2 g/dL per week despite ongoing significant daily phlebotomy. Pharmacokinetic studies demonstrated 90% oral bioavailability of 2 SCFADs, and targeted plasma levels were maintained for several hours after single oral doses equivalent to 10% to 20% of doses required for butyrate. These findings identify SCFADs that stimulate γ globin gene expression and erythropoiesis in vivo, activities that are synergistically beneficial for treatment of the β hemoglobinopathies and useful for the oral treatment of other anemias.
Current chemotherapeutic and butyrate therapeutics that induce fetal hemoglobin expression generally also suppress erythropoiesis, limiting the production of cells containing fetal hemoglobin (F cells). Recently, selected short-chain fatty acid derivatives (SCFADs) were identified that induce endogenous γ-globin expression in K562 cells and human burst-forming units–erythroid and that increase proliferation of human erythroid progenitors and a multilineage interleukin-3–depen-dent hematopoietic cell line. In this report, γ-globin inducibility by these SCFADs was further demonstrated in mice transgenic for the locus control region and the entire β-globin gene locus in a yeast artificial chromosome and in 2 globin promoter-reporter assays. Conditioned media experiments strongly suggest that their proliferative activity is a direct effect of the test compounds. Investigation of potential mechanisms of action of these SCFADs demonstrates that these compounds induce prolonged expression of the growth-promoting genes c-myb and c-myc. Both butyrate and specific growth-stimulatory SCFADs induced prolonged signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT)-5 phosphorylation and activation, and c-cis expression, persisting for more than 120 minutes, whereas with IL-3 alone phosphorylation disappeared within minutes. In contrast to butyrate treatment, the growth-stimulating SCFADs did not result in bulk histone H4 hyperacetylation or induction of p21 Waf/Cip, which mediates the suppression of cellular growth by butyrate. These findings suggest that the absence of bulk histone hyperacetylation and p21 induction, but prolonged induction of cis, myb, myc, and STAT-5 activation, contribute to the cellular proliferation induced by selected SCFADs.
Accelerated apoptosis of erythroid progenitors in β-thalassemia is a significant barrier to definitive therapy because the beneficial effects of fetal globin–inducing agents on globin chain balance may not be inducible in cells in which programmed cell death is established early. Accordingly, our objectives have been to identify methods to decrease cellular apoptosis and to identify orally tolerable fetal globin gene inducers. A pilot clinical trial was conducted to determine whether combined use of a fetal globin gene inducer (butyrate) and rhu-erythropoietin (EPO), the hematopoietic growth factor that prolongs erythroid cell survival and stimulates erythroid proliferation, would produce additive hematologic responses in any thalassemia subjects. Butyrate and EPO were administered in 10 patients. Novel fetal globin gene inducers that also stimulate erythroid proliferation were evaluated for pharmacokinetic profiles. Patients with β+-thalassemia had relatively low levels of endogenous EPO (<145 mU/mL) and had additive responses to administered EPO and butyrate. Patients with at least one β0 -globin mutation had higher baseline HbF levels (>60%) and EPO levels (>160 mU/mL), and three-fourths of these subjects responded to the fetal globin gene inducer alone. A few select fetal globin–inducing short-chain fatty acid derivatives that stimulated cell proliferation also had favorable pharmacokinetics. These studies identify a significant subset of thalassemia patients who appear to require exogenous EPO to respond optimally to any HbF inducer, as well as new therapeutic candidates that act on both cellular and molecular pathologies of β-thalassemia. Both approaches now offer excellent potential for tolerable, definitive treatment of β-thalassemia.
thalassemia; short-chain fatty acid; erythropoietin; fetal hemoglobin; apoptosis; molecular signaling
The β thalassemias are one of a few medical conditions in which reactivation of a gene product that is expressed during fetal life can functionally replace a deficiency of essential proteins expressed at a later developmental stage. The fetal globin genes are present and normally integrated in hematopoietic stem cells, and at least one fetal gene appears accessible for reactivation, particularly in β° thalassemia. However, rapid cellular apoptosis from α globin chain precipitation, and relatively low levels of endogenous erythropoietin (EPO) in some β+ thalassemia patients contribute to the anemia in β thalassemia syndromes.
In clinical trials, three classes of therapeutics have demonstrated proof-of-principle of this approach by raising total hemoglobin levels by 1–4 g/dL above baseline in thalassemia patients: EPO preparations, short chain fatty acid derivatives (SCFADs), and chemotherapeutic agents. Although thalassemic erythrocytes survive only for a few days, the magnitude of these responses is similar to those induced by rhu-EPO in anemic conditions of normal erythrocyte survival. New oral therapeutic candidates, which stimulate both fetal globin gene expression and erythropoiesis, and combinations of therapeutics with complementary molecular actions now make this gene-reactivation approach feasible to produce transfusion independence in many patients. Development of the candidate therapeutics is hindered largely by costs of drug development for an orphan patient population.
High levels of fetal hemoglobin (Hb F) protect from many of the complications of sickle cell disease and lead to improved survival. Butyrate and other short chain fatty acids were previously shown to increase Hb F production in erythroid cells in vitro and in animal models in vivo. However, butyrates are also known to inhibit the proliferation of many cell types, including erythroid cells. Experience with the use of butyrate in animal models and in early clinical trials demonstrated that the Hb F response may be lost after prolonged administration of high doses of butyrate. We hypothesized that this loss of response may be a result of the antiproliferative effects of butyrate. We designed a regimen consisting of intermittent or pulse therapy in which butyrate was administered for 4 days followed by 10 to 24 days with no drug exposure. This pulse regimen induced fetal globin gene expression in 9 of 11 patients. The mean Hb F in this group increased from 7.2% to 21.0% (P < .002) after intermittent butyrate therapy for a mean duration of 29.9 weeks. This was associated with a parallel increase in the number of F cells and F reticulocytes. The total hemoglobin levels also increased from a mean of 7.8 g/dL to a mean of 8.8 g/dL (P < .006). The increased levels of Hb F were sustained in all responders, including 1 patient who has been on pulse butyrate therapy for more than 28 months. This regimen, which resulted in a marked and sustained increase in Hb F levels in more than two thirds of the adult sickle cell patients enrolled in this study, was well tolerated without adverse side effects. These encouraging results require confirmation along with an appropriate evaluation of clinical outcomes in a larger number of patients with sickle cell disease.
Pharmacologic reinduction of the developmentally silenced fetal (γ) globin genes has been achieved in hemoglobinopathy patients using short chain fatty acid derivatives, with therapeutic effects. However, higher-potency inducers than are available in currently identified short chain fatty acid derivatives are desirable for long-term use. Using several short-chain fatty acids with established γ-globin induction activity, a pharmacophore template was constructed with the TFIT module of the flo software and used to select several new candidate compounds, three of which exhibited significant activity in a γ-globin gene reporter transcriptional assay which detects only strong inducers. The data were used to construct a new pharmacophore and a ‘pseudo’ receptor around it. Six hundred and thirty low-molecular weight compounds were docked into this receptor model. Of 26 compounds selected and tested in functional assays, two compounds showed activity >500% over control levels and two had activity 200% over control range, significantly more active than previously identified short chain fatty acid derivative fetal globin gene inducers. Three compounds had less activity; the remainder showed moderate activity. These findings demonstrate the feasibility of using iterative construction of pharmacophores, pseudo-binding site modeling, and virtual screening to identify small molecules with the ability to induce transcription of specific target genes, for potential therapeutics.
pharmacophore; pseudo receptor; fetal globin; FLO/QXP
Accelerated apoptosis of erythroid progenitors is a characteristic of β-thalassemia which presents a significant barrier to definitive therapeutic approaches utilizing induction of endogenous fetal globin gene expression. γ-globin gene expression may not be inducible in, or may not be able to rescue, erythroid cells in which programmed cell death is initiated early in erythroblast development. In this report, short-chain fatty acid derivatives (SCFADs) which induce fetal globin gene expression were tested for their ability to promote proliferation and survival of erythroid progenitors cultured from β-thalassemic subjects, and of cytokine-dependent erythroid cell lines. Certain SCFADs promoted thalassemic Bfu-e growth and cytokine-independent growth and survival of erythroid cell lines. A 40–80% increase in erythroid Bfu-e colony number was observed in cultures established with any of five mitogenic SCFADs, compared to control or butyrate-treated cultures from the same subjects. Immunoblot analysis demonstrated that these same SCFADs also regulated the expression of specific protein inhibitors of apoptosis. Anti-apoptotic ratios of the proteins Bcl-xL/Bcl-xS in thalassemic Bfu-e were increased by 30–120% with exposure to the SCFDs, compared to the ratios in the same cells cultured under control conditions. Similar anti-apoptotic increases in Mcl-1L/Mcl-1S ratios were induced by the SCFADs. These findings suggest that select fetal globin-inducing SCFADs which enhance proliferation of β-thalassemia progenitors may enhance survival of these progenitors by altering levels of Bcl-family protein members. This combination of effects should enhance erythroid cell survival in the β-thalassemia syndromes, allowing fetal globin gene expression to be induced more effectively than currently available, growth-suppressing, fetal globin-inducing agents, such as the butyrates or chemotherapeutic agents.
Growth; Survival; Bcl-family protein; β-thalassemia; Erythroid; Fatty acid
β–thalassemia intermedia syndromes (BTI) cause hemolytic anemia, ineffective erythropoiesis, and widespread complications. Higher fetal globin expression within genotypes reduces globin imbalance and ameliorates anemia. Sodium 2,2 dimethylbutyrate (HQK-1001), an orally bioavailable short-chain fatty acid derivative, induces γ-globin expression experimentally and is well-tolerated in normal subjects. Accordingly, a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled, Phase I/II trial was performed in 21 adult BTI patients (14 with HbE/β0 thalassemia and 7 with β+/β0 thalassemia intermedia, to determine effective doses for fetal globin induction, safety, and tolerability. HQK-1001 or placebo were administered once daily for 8 weeks at four dose levels (10, 20, 30, or 40 mg/kg/day), and subjects were monitored for laboratory and clinical events. Pharmacokinetic profiles demonstrated a t1/2 of 10–12 hours. Adverse events with HQK-1001 treatment were not significantly different from placebo treatment. Median HbF increased with the 20 mg/kg treatment doses above baseline levels by 6.6% and 0.44 g/dL (p <0.01) in 8/9 subjects; total hemoglobin (Hgb) increased by a mean of 1.1 gm/dL in 4/9 subjects. These findings identify a safe oral therapeutic which induces fetal globin in BTI. Further investigation of HQK-1001 with longer dosing to definitively evaluate its hematologic potential appears warranted.
Beta thalassaemia intermedia; fetal hemoglobin; clinical trial; pharmacokinetics
Inducing expression of endogenous fetal globin (γ-globin) gene expression to 60-70% of alpha globin synthesis produces β-thalassemia trait globin synthetic ratios and can reduce anemia to a mild level. Several classes of therapeutics have induced γ-globin expression in beta thalassemia patients and subsequently raised total hemoglobin levels, demonstrating proof-of-concept of the approach. Butyrate treatment eliminated transfusion requirements in formerly transfusion-dependent patients with treatment for as long as 7 years. However, prior generations were not readily applicable for widespread use. Currently, a novel oral dual-action therapeutic sodium 2,2-dimethylbutyrate is in clinical trials, an oral decitabine formulation is under development, and agents with complementary mechanisms of action can be applied in combined regimens. Identification of 3 major genetic trait loci which modulate clinical severity provides avenues for developing tailored regimens. These refinements offer renewed potential to apply fetal globin induction as a treatment approach in patient-friendly regimens that can be used world-wide.
thalassemia; short chain fatty acids; butyrates; erythropoiesis; fetal globin; quantitative trait loci
Pharmacologic induction of fetal globin synthesis is an accepted therapeutic strategy for treatment of the beta hemoglobinopathies and thalassemias, as even small increases in hemoglobin F (HbF) levels reduce clinical severity in sickle cell disease and reduce anemia in beta thalassemia. Prior generation short chain fatty acid therapeutics, arginine butyrate and phenylbutyrate, increased fetal and total hemoglobin levels in patients, but were limited by high doses or intravenous infusion. A fetal globin-inducing therapeutic with convenient oral dosing would be an advance for these classic molecular diseases.
Healthy adult human subjects were treated with a novel SCFA derivative, sodium 2,2 dimethylbutyrate (SDMB), or placebo, with one of four single dose levels (2, 5, 10 and 20 mg/kg) or daily doses (5, 10, or 15 mg/kg) over 14 days, and monitored for adverse clinical and laboratory events, drug levels, reticulocytes, and HbF assays. SDMB was well-tolerated with no clinically significant adverse events related to study medication. The terminal half-life ranged from 9–15 hours. Increases in mean absolute reticulocytes were observed at all dose levels in the 14-day study. The favorable PK profiles and safety findings indicate that SDMB warrants further investigation for treatment of anemic subjects with beta hemoglobinopathies.
short chain fatty acids; anemias; pharmacokinetic profiles; erythropoiesis; fetal hemoglobin
Therapeutics which reduce the pathology in sickle cell syndromes are needed, particularly non-cytotoxic therapeutics. Fetal hemoglobin (HbF, α2γ2) is established as a major regulator of disease severity; increased HbF levels correlate with milder clinical courses and improved survival. Accordingly, sodium dimethylbutyrate (HQK-1001), an orally-bioavailable, promoter-targeted fetal globin gene-inducing agent, was evaluated in a randomized, blinded, dose-ranging Phase I/II trial in 24 adult patients with HbSS or S/β thalassemia, to determine safety and tolerability of three escalating dose levels. The study therapeutic was administered once daily for two 6-week cycles, with a 2-week interim dose holiday. Twenty-one patients completed the study. Five patients received study drug at 10 or 20 mg/kg doses, seven patients received study drug at 30 mg/kg/dose, and 4 patients received placebo. HQK-1001 was well-tolerated with no unexpected drug-related adverse events; a dose-limiting toxicity was not identified. Plasma drug levels were sustained above targeted levels for 24 hours. Increases in HbF above baseline were observed particularly with 30 mg/kg/day doses; in five of seven treated patients, a mean absolute increase in HbF of 0.2 g/dl and a mean increase in total hemoglobin (Hgb) of 0.83 g/dl above baseline were observed, whereas no increases occurred in placebo-treated controls. These findings of favorable PK profiles, tolerability, early rises in HbF and total Hgb indicate that trials of longer duration appear warranted to more definitively evaluate the therapeutic potential of HQK-1001 in sickle cell disease.
The β-hemoglobinopathies and thalassemias are serious genetic blood disorders affecting the β-globin chain of hemoglobin A (α2βA2). Their clinical severity can be reduced by enhancing expression of fetal hemoglobin (γ-globin), producing HbF (α2γ2,). In studies reported here, γ-globin induction by 23 novel, structurally-unrelated compounds, which had been predicted through molecular modeling and in silico screening of a 13,000 chemical library, was evaluated in vitro in erythroid progenitors cultured from normal subjects and β-thalassemia patients, and in vivo in transgenic mice or anemic baboons. Four predicted candidates were found to have high potency, with 4- to 8-fold induction of HbF. Two of these compounds have pharmacokinetic profiles favorable for clinical application. These studies thus effectively identified high potency γ-globin inducing candidate therapeutics and validated the utility of in silico molecular modeling.
Butyrate; fetal hemoglobin; hemoglobinopathy; small molecules
In addition to being a part of the metabolic fatty acid fuel cycle, butyrate is also capable of inducing growth arrest in a variety of normal cell types and senescence-like phenotypes in gynecological cancer cells, inhibiting DNA synthesis and cell growth in colonic tumor cell lines, suppressing hTERT mRNA expression and telomerase activity in human prostate cancer cells, and inducing stem cell differentiation and apoptosis by DNA fragmentation. It regulates gene expression by inhibiting histone deacetylases (HDACs), enhances memory recovery and formation in mice, stimulates neurogenesis in the ischemic brain, promotes osteoblast formation, selectively blocks cell replication in transformed cells (compared to healthy cells), and can prevent and treat diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance in mouse models of obesity, as well as stimulate fetal hemoglobin expression in individuals with hematologic diseases such as the thalassemias and sickle-cell disease, in addition to a multitude of other biochemical effects in vivo. However, efforts to exploit the potential of butyrate in the clinical treatment of cancer and other medical disorders are thwarted by its poor pharmacological properties (short half-life and first-pass hepatic clearance) and the multigram doses needed to achieve therapeutic concentrations in vivo. Herein, we review some of the methods used to overcome these difficulties with an emphasis on HDAC inhibition.
acylcarnitine; butyrate; butyrylcarnitine; carnitine; histone deacetylase
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the causal agent in the etiology of Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma and is also associated with multiple human malignancies, including Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and posttransplantation lymphoproliferative disease, as well as sporadic cancers of other tissues. A causal relationship of EBV to these latter malignancies remains controversial, although the episomic EBV genome in most of these cancers is clonal, suggesting infection very early in the development of the tumor and a possible role for EBV in the genesis of these diseases. Furthermore, the prognosis of these tumors is invariably poor when EBV is present, compared to their EBV-negative counterparts. The physical presence of EBV in these tumors represents a potential “tumor-specific”
target for therapeutic approaches. While treatment options for other types of herpesvirus infections have evolved and improved over the last two decades, however, therapies directed at EBV have lagged. A major constraint to pharmacological intervention is the shift from lytic infection to a latent pattern of gene expression, which persists in those tumors associated with the virus. In this paper we provide a brief account of new virus-targeted therapeutic approaches against EBV-associated malignancies.
The erythroid Kruppel-like factor (EKLF) is an essential transcription factor for β-type globin gene switching, and specifically activates transcription of the adult β-globin gene promoter. We sought to determine if EKLF is also required for activation of the γ-globin gene by short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) derivatives, which are now entering clinical trials.
The functional and physical interaction of EKLF and co-regulatory molecules with the endogenous human globin gene promoters was studied in primary human erythroid progenitors and cell lines, using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays and genetic manipulation of the levels of EKLF and co-regulators.
Results and conclusions
Knockdown of EKLF prevents SCFA-induced expression of the γ-globin promoter in a stably expressed μLCRβprRlucAγprFluc cassette, and prevents induction of the endogenous γ-globin gene in primary human erythroid progenitors. EKLF is actively recruited to endogenous γ-globin gene promoters after exposure of primary human erythroid progenitors, and murine hematopoietic cell lines, to SCFA derivatives. The core ATPase BRG1 subunit of the human SWI/WNF complex, a ubiquitous multimeric complex that regulates gene expression by remodeling nucleosomal structure, is also required for γ-globin gene induction by SCFA derivatives. BRG1 is actively recruited to the endogenous γ-globin promoter of primary human erythroid progenitors by exposure to SCFA derivatives, and this recruitment is dependent upon the presence of EKLF. These findings demonstrate that EKLF, and the co-activator BRG1, previously demonstrated to be required for definitive or adult erythropoietic patterns of globin gene expression, are co-opted by SCFA derivatives to activate the fetal globin genes.
erythropoiesis; fetal hemoglobin; gamma globin; globin gene switching; hemoglobinopathy; sickle cell disease; thalassemia
2,2-Dimethylbutyrate (DMB) is a potential treatment for thalassemia and hemoglobinopathies. To facilitate pharmacokinetic evaluation of DMB, we developed an LC-MS assay and quantitated DMB in plasma of rats after an oral dose of 500 mg/kg. After acetonitrile protein precipitation, DMB and dimethylvaleric acid (DMV) internal standard were derivatized to benzylamides, chromatographed on a Hydro-RP column with acetonitrile, water, and 0.1% formic acid, and detected by electrospray positive-mode ionization mass spectrometry. The assay was accurate (97–107%) and precise (3.4–6.2%) between 100 and 10,000 ng/mL. Recovery from plasma was >62%. Plasma freeze-thaw and room temperature stability were acceptable.
dimethylbutyrate; metabolism; mass spectrometry; validation; fatty acid; sickle cell disease; thalassemia
Antiviral drugs alone have been unsuccessful in the treatment of Epstein Barr virus (EBV)-associated malignancies because the virus maintains a latent state of replication in these tumors. In recent years, novel therapeutic approaches are being investigated wherein lytic replication of the virus is induced prior to the use of cytotoxic antiviral drugs. The choice of suitable agents to induce lytic replication has been a critical step in this novel approach. We have previously demonstrated that butyrate derivatives induce a lytic pattern of EBV gene expression in patient-derived EBV-positive lymphoblastoid cell lines and, together with nucleoside analog ganciclovir, effectively reduce or eliminate tumor growth in humans. Butyrate has drawbacks as a therapeutic agent, however, as constant intravenous infusion is required to achieve detectable plasma levels of this drug. In this study, we investigated whether discontinuous exposure to butyrate is capable of initiating lytic-phase gene expression and thymidine kinase induction, and sensitizing EBV-positive lymphoma cells to ganciclovir-mediated cell growth arrest and apoptosis. We demonstrate that multiple daily 6 hr exposures of the EBV-positive Burkitt’s lymphoma cell line P3HR1 to butyrate induced sustained expression of the EBV lytic-phase protein BMRF. Viral thymidine kinase was also induced by intermittent exposure, although to a lower level than with continuous exposure treatment. However, discontinuous exposure to butyrate in combination with ganciclovir induced a similar level of tumor cell growth inhibition as did continuous treatment, as measured by serial enumeration of viable cells, MTT cell proliferation assays, and measurement of cellular DNA content. We further demonstrated that those cells which survived initial exposure to butyrate plus ganciclovir remained susceptible to further cycles of combination treatment. These findings suggests that continuous infusion of butyrate may not be necessary for maintaining viral thymidine kinase gene expression and sensitization to anti-viral agents in EBV-associated tumors, and that therapeutic regimens which employ more convenient, discontinuous exposure to butyrate may also be effective clinically.
Epstein-Barr Virus; Butyrate; Thymidine Kinase; Ganciclovir; Growth inhibition; Apoptosis