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Genomics Insights. 2009 Jul 30;2009(2):23-48.

Sickle Cell Disease in the Post Genomic Era: A Monogenic Disease with a Polygenic Phenotype.

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Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Immunology, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


More than half a century after the discovery of the molecular basis of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), the causes of the phenotypic heterogeneity of the disease remain unclear. This heterogeneity manifests with different clinical outcomes such as stroke, vaso-occlusive episodes, acute chest syndrome, avascular necrosis, leg ulcers, priapism and retinopathy. These outcomes cannot be explained by the single mutation in the beta-globin gene alone but may be attributed to genetic modifiers and environmental effects. Recent advances in the post human genome sequence era have opened the door for the identification of novel genetic modifiers in SCD. Studies are showing that phenotypes of SCD seem to be modulated by polymorphisms in genes that are involved in inflammation, cell-cell interaction and modulators of oxidant injury and nitric oxide biology. The discovery of genes implicated in different phenotypes will help understanding of the physiopathology of the disease and aid in establishing targeted cures. However, caution is needed in asserting that genetic modifiers are the cause of all SCD phenotypes, because there are other factors such as genetic background of the population, environmental components, socio-economics and psychology that can play significant roles in the clinical heterogeneity.


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