The etiology of severe hemolytic anemia in most patients with recessive hereditary spherocytosis (rHS) and the related disorder hereditary pyropoikilocytosis (HPP) is unknown. Whole-exome sequencing of DNA from probands of 24 rHS or HPP kindreds identified numerous mutations in erythrocyte membrane α-spectrin (SPTA1). Twenty-eight mutations were novel, with null alleles frequently found in trans to missense mutations. No mutations were identified in a third of SPTA1 alleles (17/48). WGS revealed linkage disequilibrium between the common rHS-linked αBH polymorphism and a rare intron 30 variant in all 17 mutation-negative alleles. In vitro minigene studies and in vivo splicing analyses revealed the intron 30 variant changes a weak alternate branch point (BP) to a strong BP. This change leads to increased utilization of an alternate 3′ splice acceptor site, perturbing normal α-spectrin mRNA splicing and creating an elongated mRNA transcript. In vivo mRNA stability studies revealed the newly created termination codon in the elongated transcript activates nonsense-mediated decay leading to spectrin deficiency. These results demonstrate that a unique mechanism of human genetic disease contributes to the etiology of a third of rHS cases, facilitating diagnosis and treatment of severe anemia and identifying a new target for therapeutic manipulation.


Patrick G. Gallagher, Yelena Maksimova, Kimberly Lezon-Geyda, Peter E. Newburger, Desiree Medeiros, Robin D. Hanson, Jennifer Rothman, Sara Israels, Donna A. Wall, Robert F. Sidonio Jr., Colin Sieff, L. Kate Gowans, Nupur Mittal, Roland Rivera-Santiago, David W. Speicher, Susan J. Baserga, Vincent P. Schulz


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