• Individuals with monogenic disorders can experience variable phenotypes that are influenced by genetic variation. To investigate this in sickle cell disease (SCD), we performed whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of 722 individuals with hemoglobin HbSS or HbSβ0-thalassemia from Baylor College of Medicine and from the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Sickle Cell Clinical Research and Intervention Program (SCCRIP) longitudinal cohort study. We developed pipelines to identify genetic variants that modulate sickle hemoglobin polymerization in red blood cells and combined these with pain-associated variants to build a polygenic score (PGS) for acute vaso-occlusive pain (VOP). Overall, we interrogated the α-thalassemia deletion -α3.7 and 133 candidate single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across 66 genes for associations with VOP in 327 SCCRIP participants followed longitudinally over 6 years. Twenty-one SNPs in 9 loci were associated with VOP, including 3 (BCL11A, MYB, and the β-like globin gene cluster) that regulate erythrocyte fetal hemoglobin (HbF) levels and 6 (COMT, TBC1D1, KCNJ6, FAAH, NR3C1, and IL1A) that were associated previously with various pain syndromes. An unweighted PGS integrating all 21 SNPs was associated with the VOP event rate (estimate, 0.35; standard error, 0.04; P = 5.9 × 10-14) and VOP event occurrence (estimate, 0.42; standard error, 0.06; P = 4.1 × 10-13). These associations were stronger than those of any single locus. Our findings provide insights into the genetic modulation of VOP in children with SCD. More generally, we demonstrate the utility of WGS for investigating genetic contributions to the variable expression of SCD-associated morbidities. (07/2022) (link)

Online Publications

  • Pain in sickle cell disease (SCD) can have a neuropathic component. This randomized phase II double-blinded placebo-controlled study evaluated the efficacy of gabapentin in reducing pain and opioid consumption (morphine-equivalent dose [MED]) during acute vaso-occlusive crisis (VOC). Of 90 patients aged 1-18 years with VOC pain, 45 were randomized to a single gabapentin dose (15 mg/kg) and 45 to placebo, in addition to standard treatment; 42 and 44 patients were evaluable in the gabapentin and placebo arms, respectively. A decrease in pain of ≥33% was reported in 68% of patients in the gabapentin arm and 60% of those in the placebo arm (one-sided p = 0.23). The median MED (mg/kg) in the gabapentin (0.12) and placebo arms (0.13) was similar (p = 0.9). However, in the subset of patients with the HbSS genotype (n = 45), the mean (SD) absolute pain score decrease by the time of discharge was significantly greater in the gabapentin arm (5.9 [3.5]) than in the placebo arm (3.6 [3.3]) (p = 0.032). Pain scores in the overall study population were not significantly reduced when gabapentin was added to standard treatment; however, gabapentin benefited individuals with the more severe genotype, HbSS, during acute VOC. Larger, prospective studies are needed to confirm these findings. (05/2021) (link)