Alas2 encodes the erythroid-specific δ-aminolevulinate synthase (ALAS2 or ALAS-E), the first enzyme in heme biosynthesis in erythroid cells. Mice with the Alas2-null phenotype showed massive cytoplasmic, but not mitochondrial, iron accumulation in their primitive erythroblasts. Because these animals died by day 11.5 in utero, studies of iron metabolism in definitive erythroblasts were not possible using the in vivo model. In this study, embryonic stem (ES) cells lacking the Alas2 gene were induced to undergo differentiation to the definitive erythroblast stage in culture, and the phenotype of Alas2-null definitive erythroblasts was examined. Alas2-null definitive erythroblasts cell pellets were entirely colorless due to a marked deficiency of heme, although their cell morphology was similar to that of the wild-type erythroblasts. The level of expression of erythroidspecific genes in Alas2-null definitive erythroblasts was also similar to that of the wild-type erythroblasts. These findings indicate that Alas2-null definitive erythroblasts developed to a stage similar to that of the wild-type erythroblasts, which were also shown to be very similar to the bone marrow erythroblasts in vivo. In contrast, Alas2-null definitive erythroblasts contained 15 times more nonheme iron than did the wild-type erythroblasts, and electron microscopy found this iron to be distributed in the cytoplasm but not in mitochondria. Consistent with the aberrant increase in iron, Alas2-null definitive erythroblasts were more peroxidized than wild-type erythroblasts. These findings suggest that ALAS2 deficiency itself does not interfere with the development of definitive erythroid cells, but it results in a profound iron accumulation and a peroxidized state in erythroblasts.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology