The developmental genetics of human haemoglobin
Weatherall D., Wood WG., Jones RW., Clegg JB.
Clearly, it is impossible to combine the diverse information briefly outlined in this review to provide a coherent model of the regulation of globin gene expression during development. One of the great difficulties in this field is uncertainty as to whether the mutations which are associated with persistent gamma chain production or, for the matter, the experimental models which have been used to study the differential expression of the fetal and adult globin genes, have any real relevance to an understanding of the normal switching process. Probably they do, but only with respect to one aspect of what must be an extremely complex multi-step regulatory system. The consistent changes in chromatin and methylation state of the beta globin gene cluster which are associated with activation of the different gene loci at different stages of development provide an anatomical explanation for the activity of these loci but tell us nothing about their mode of regulation. However, the gene or chromosome transfer experiments suggest that there may be developmental-stage specific trans regulatory factors which may be involved in the regulation of these genes, presumably by interacting in some way with chromatin. This is a very promising lead. Equally interesting is the possibility that the upstream mutations which are being found in some of the forms of non-deletion HPFH could provide a clue as to the site of these interactions. Thus at least we have an indication of what might be the most productive area of investigation for trying to characterize the mechanisms of regulation at the chromosomal level. This may be as far as we can go in the immediate future. The central question remains, however. How is the differential expression of the globin genes during development actually timed? All we know at the moment is that it is related fairly closely to gestational age. The only experimental data relating to this question is derived from the sheep transplant model, and suggests that there might be some form of "developmental clock' built into the hemopoietic stem cell. Here we are in considerable difficulties because we don't have an obvious experimental model with which to analyze time-related events. None of the forms of HPFH is, strictly speaking, a heterochronic mutation.