Detection of the (–SEA) double α-globin gene deletion by a simple immunologic assay for embryonic ζ-globin chains
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Homozygous alpha-thalassemia [alpha-thal-1], with loss of all four alpha-globin genes, causes lethal hydrops fetalis. The most common mutation producing this syndrome is the Southeast Asian (--SEA) double alpha-globin gene deletion. Erythrocytes from adults heterozygous for the (--SEA) deletion have minute amounts of embryonic zeta-globin chains detectable by anti-zeta-globin monoclonal antibodies. Among 225 peripheral blood samples tested by a simple anti-zeta-immunobinding tetrazolium dye test, 81 were positive and 144 were negative. The majority of subjects were of Filipino, Chinese, or Laotian ancestry. All 81 positive samples were confirmed by Bam HI digests and a zeta-cDNA probe to have the (--SEA) mutation. The (--SEA) double alpha-deletion was the only abnormality in 58. In the others, it was combined with alpha-globin or beta-globin mutations, or coincidental iron deficiency. Four other samples from (--SEA) heterozygotes were negative by this immunologic assay. Anti-zeta negative samples included 78 deletions of the total alpha-globin region, (--Tot), 23 single alpha-globin deletions, and a variety of beta-globin mutations; 16 normocytic samples with normal alpha-genes were also negative. Ten anti-zeta positive and 25 anti-zeta negative samples had benign triplicated zeta-globin genes. In this population, the sensitivity of this test was 95%; and specificity for the (--SEA) mutation was 100%. Anti-zeta immunobinding testing provides rapid, simple, and reliable screening for the (--SEA) double alpha-globin deletion, although it does not detect the (--Tot) total alpha-deletions.