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Haemoglobin E (alpha 2 beta 2(26)Glu leads to Lys) is one of the commonest haemoglobin variants. There are an estimated 30 million carriers of the beta E gene in South-East Asia, where they comprise more than 50% of the population in some areas; however, the reasons for this high frequency have never been adequately explained. Homozygotes for HbE may be midly anaemic, but they do not have any clinical disability. However, individuals heterozygous for both beta E and beta thalassaemia (HbE/beta thalassaemia) have a severe clinical disorder which in some cases may approach that seen in homozygous beta thalassaemia and which is by far the commonest form of symptomatic thalassaemia in the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia. Haemoglobin E is the only common structural variant which interacts with beta thalassaemia to produce a severe disorder and the underlying mechanism of the interaction is not known. We have studied several homozygotes and heterozygotes for HbE and show here that the beta E chain is inefficiently synthesized and produces the phenotype of a mild form of beta thalassaemia; hence, when inherited together with beta thalassaemia it causes a marked beta-chain deficit. Furthermore, the mechanism for the defective production of beta E chains seems to be a reduction of beta E mRNA, a most unexpected finding in a disorder caused by a single amino acid substitution and presumably by a single nucleotide change in the DNA of the beta globin gene.

Type

Journal article

Journal

Nature

Volume

288

Pages

497 - 9