Effect of 5-aminolevulinic acid on erythropoiesis: A preclinical in vitro characterization for the treatment of congenital sideroblastic anemia

Tohru Fujiwara, Koji Okamoto, Ryoyu Niikuni, Kiwamu Takahashi, Yoko Okitsu, Noriko Fukuhara, Yasushi Onishi, Kenichi Ishizawa, Ryo Ichinohasama, Yukio Nakamura, Motowo Nakajima, Tohru Tanaka, Hideo Harigae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Congenital sideroblastic anemia (CSA) is a hereditary disorder characterized by microcytic anemia and bone marrow sideroblasts. The most common form of CSA is attributed to mutations in the X-linked gene 5-aminolevulinic acid synthase 2 (ALAS2). ALAS2 is a mitochondrial enzyme, which utilizes glycine and succinyl-CoA to form 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA), a crucial precursor in heme synthesis. Therefore, ALA supplementation could be an effective therapeutic strategy to restore heme synthesis in CSA caused by ALAS2 defects. In a preclinical study, we examined the effects of ALA in human erythroid cells, including K562 cells and human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived erythroid progenitor (HiDEP) cells. ALA treatment resulted in significant dose-dependent accumulation of heme in the K562 cell line. Concomitantly, the treatment substantially induced erythroid differentiation as assessed using benzidine staining. Quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis confirmed significant upregulation of heme-regulated genes, such as the globin genes [hemoglobin alpha (HBA) and hemoglobin gamma (HBG)] and the heme oxygenase 1 (HMOX1) gene, in K562 cells. Next, to investigate the mechanism by which ALA is transported into erythroid cells, quantitative RT-PCR analysis was performed on previously identified ALA transporters, including solute carrier family 15 (oligopeptide transporter), member (SLC15A) 1, SLC15A2, solute carrier family 36 (proton/amino acid symporter), member (SLC36A1), and solute carrier family 6 (neurotransmitter transporter), member 13 (SLC6A13). Our analysis revealed that SLC36A1 was abundantly expressed in erythroid cells. Thus, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) was added to K562 cells to competitively inhibit SLC36A1-mediated transport. GABA treatment significantly impeded the ALA-mediated increase in the number of hemoglobinized cells as well as the induction of HBG, HBA, and HMOX1. Finally, small-interfering RNA-mediated knockdown of ALAS2 in HiDEP cells considerably decreased the expression of HBA, HBG, and HMOX1, and these expression levels were rescued with ALA treatment. In summary, ALA appears to be transported into erythroid cells mainly by SLC36A1 and is utilized to generate heme. ALA may represent a novel therapeutic option for CSA treatment, particularly for cases harboring ALAS2 mutations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-108
Number of pages7
JournalBiochemical and Biophysical Research Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Nov 7


  • 5-Aminolevulinic acid
  • 5-Aminolevulinic acid synthase 2
  • Congenital sideroblastic anemia
  • Erythroid cells
  • Heme


Dive into the research topics of 'Effect of 5-aminolevulinic acid on erythropoiesis: A preclinical in vitro characterization for the treatment of congenital sideroblastic anemia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this