Scientific Literature

Update in Laboratory Diagnosis of Thalassemia

Munkongdee T, Chen P, Winichagoon P, Fucharoen S, Paiboonsukwong K. Front Mol Biosci. 10.3389/fmolb.2020.00074. PMID: 32671092; PMCID: PMC7326097. (2020)

Alpha- and β-thalassemias and abnormal hemoglobin (Hb) are common in tropical countries. These abnormal globin genes in different combinations lead to many thalassemic diseases including three severe thalassemia diseases, i.e., homozygous β-thalassemia, β-thalassemia/Hb E, and Hb Bart’s hydrops fetalis.

Laboratory diagnosis of thalassemia requires a number of tests including red blood cell indices and Hb and DNA analyses. Thalassemic red blood cell analysis with an automated hematology analyzer is a primary screening for thalassemia since microcytosis and decreased Hb content of red blood cells are hallmarks of all thalassemic red blood cells. However, these two red blood cell indices cannot discriminate between thalassemia trait and iron deficiency or between α- and β-thalassemic conditions.

Today, Hb analysis may be carried out by either automatic high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) or capillary zone electrophoresis (CE) system. These two systems give both qualitative and quantitative analysis of Hb components and help to do thalassemia prenatal and postnatal diagnoses within a short period. Both systems have a good correlation, but the interpretation under the CE system should be done with caution because Hb A2 is clearly separated from Hb E. In case of α-thalassemia gene interaction, it can affect the amount of Hb A2/E. Thalassemia genotypes can be characterized by the intensities between alpha-/beta-globin chains or alpha-/beta-mRNA ratios.

However, those are presumptive diagnoses. Only DNA analysis can be made for specific thalassemia mutation diagnosis. Various molecular techniques have been used for point mutation detection in β-thalassemia and large-deletion detection in α-thalassemia. All of these techniques have some advantages and disadvantages.

Recently, screening for both α- and β-thalassemia genes by next-generation sequencing (NGS) has been introduced. This technique gives an accurate diagnosis of thalassemia that may be misdiagnosed by other conventional techniques. The major limitation for using NGS in the screening of thalassemia is its cost which is still expensive. All service labs highly recommend to select the technique(s) they are most familiar and most economic one for their routine use.

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