Embryonic erythroid differentiation in the human leukemic cell line K562
Rutherford T., Clegg JB., Higgs DR., Jones RW., Thompson J., Weatherall DJ.
K562 human leukemia cells synthesize embryonic hemoglobins after culture in the presence of hemin. We have rigorously identified these hemoglobins by globin chain analysis and peptide mapping. No adult hemoglobin could be detected, and beta-globin synthesis was less than 2 ppm of total protein synthesis. Persistent embryonic globin gene expression is known to occur as a consequence of globin gene deletions. However, restriction endonuclease mapping showed that the globin gene complexes in K562 cells are indistinguishable from normal. Hemin increased the rate of embryonic globin synthesis. The pattern of hemoglobin synthesis proved to be stable when cells from different laboratories were compared. One line, however, synthesized large amounts of Hb X and very little Hb Portland in response to hemin. Hb X has been previously detected in human embryos; we show here that it has the composition epsilon 2 gamma 2 and is diagnostic of imbalanced chain synthesis or "zeta thalassemia." We have identified several agents that induce hemoglobin synthesis in K562 cells. Different inducers induced different patterns of embryonic hemoglobin synthesis but never any adult hemoglobin synthesis.