Polymerization of the sickle hemoglobin (HbS) is a key determinant of sickle cell disease (SCD), an inherited blood disorder. Fetal hemoglobin (HbF) is a major modulator of the disease severity by both decreasing HbS intracellular concentration and inhibiting its polymerization. However, heterocellular distribution of HbF is common in SCD. For HbS polymerization inhibition, the hypothesis of an "HbF per red blood cell (HbF/RBC) threshold" requires accurate measurement of HbF in individual RBC. To date, HbF detection methods are limited to a qualitative measurement of RBC populations containing HbF - the F cells, which are variable. We developed an accurate method for HbF quantification in individual RBC. A linear association between mean HbF content and mean RBC fluorescence by flow cytometry, using an anti-Human-HbF antibody, was obtained from non-SCD subjects presenting homogeneous HbF distribution. This correlation was then used to measure HbF/RBC. Hydroxyurea (HU) improves SCD clinical manifestations, mainly through its ability to induce HbF synthesis. The HbF distribution was analyzed in 14 SCD patients before and during HU treatment. A significant decrease in RBC population containing less than 2 pg of HbF/RBC was observed. Therefore, we tested associations for %RBC above different HbF/RBC thresholds and showed a decrease in the pathognomonic vaso-occlusive crisis incidence from the threshold of 4 pg. This quantity was also correlated with the level of sickle RBC after in vitro deoxygenation. This new method allows the comparison of HbF/RBC distributions and could be a useful tool to characterize baseline patients HbF distribution and therapeutic response to HbF inducers.
Individual red blood cell fetal hemoglobin quantification allows to determine protective thresholds in sickle cell disease.
Am J Hematol. 2020;95(11):1235-1245.
MeSH terms: Adult; Anemia, Sickle Cell; Erythrocytes, Abnormal; Female; Fetal Hemoglobin; Flow Cytometry; Humans; Hydroxyurea; Male