Understanding alpha globin gene expression: a step towards effective gene therapy
Higgs DR., Sharpe JA., Wood WG.
During the past 20 years developments in molecular and cellular biology have kindled the hope that one might eventually ameliorate or even cure some serious genetic diseases by repairing or replacing the defective gene. Other articles deal with the formidable problems of isolating pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells; efficiently, safely, and stably transfecting them, and developing transplantation protocols to ensure that the corrected cells supplant the patient's abnormal stem cells after transplantation. Assuming that these hurdles can be overcome, it will also be important to establish the ideal segment of DNA to introduce into stem cells to ensure that, regardless of its position of integration in the genome, the gene in question will be appropriately regulated. In the case of the globin genes this is a particularly difficult task because in order to correct disorders of globin synthesis we need to obtain high levels of stable, tissue- and developmental-stage specific expression. Issues relevant to this problem arising from the analysis of the human beta globin cluster are discussed in the article in this issue by Grosveld. In this article we review our current understanding of how eukaryotic genes might be expressed from their normal chromosomal environment, using the human alpha globin cluster as a specific example. We also discuss how this information might be used in the development of strategies for gene therapy.