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Fetal hemoglobin (HbF) levels vary widely among individuals with sickle cell anemia (SS). Previous studies have suggested that HbF levels in SS individuals with alpha-thalassemia (two or three functional alpha-globin genes) are lower than HbF levels in SS individuals with four normal alpha-globin genes. Using immunocytochemical techniques, we studied F cell production as measured by % F reticulocytes, the amount of HbF per F cell, and the preferential survival of F cells versus non-F cells in 51 subjects with four alpha genes, 32 subjects with three alpha genes, and 18 subjects with two alpha genes. Comparison between alpha-globin gene groups was performed for the total sample as well as for a subset of 82 individuals who had replicate samples and a further subset of 39 age-matched individuals. %HbF levels were 6.8, 4.9, and 4.5 percent for the total four-, three-, and two-alpha-globin-gene groups, respectively. The percentage of F reticulocytes, percentage HbF per F cell, and the enrichment ratio (% F cell/% F reticulocytes) did not change significantly with alpha-globin gene number. Moreover, no correlation existed between alpha-globin gene number and the absolute number of F cells in any group studied. However, there was a strong inverse correlation (r = -0.407, P = .0001) between non-F cell levels (1.7 +/- 2, 2.2 +/- 5, 3.0 +/- 1.0 X 10(12)/L) and decreasing alpha-globin gene number. These data suggest that falling HbF levels among SS individuals with lessened numbers of alpha-globin genes reflect prolonged survival of non-F cells and are not due to intrinsic differences in F cell production or in the amount of HbF per F cell. The improved survival of non-F cells in SS alpha-thalassemia is presumed to be due to the lower MCHC observed in such individuals.


Journal article



Publication Date





341 - 344


Humans, Anemia, Sickle Cell, Thalassemia, Fetal Hemoglobin, Globins, Erythrocyte Aging