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Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions     A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®


Reviewed August 2009

What is the official name of the HBA1 gene?

The official name of this gene is “hemoglobin subunit alpha 1.”

HBA1 is the gene's official symbol. The HBA1 gene is also known by other names, listed below.

What is the normal function of the HBA1 gene?

The HBA1 gene provides instructions for making a protein called alpha-globin. This protein is also produced from a nearly identical gene called HBA2. These two alpha-globin genes are located close together in a region of chromosome 16 known as the alpha-globin locus.

Alpha-globin is a component (subunit) of a larger protein called hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells and tissues throughout the body. Hemoglobin is made up of four subunits: two subunits of alpha-globin and two subunits of another type of globin. Alpha-globin is a component of both fetal hemoglobin, which is active only before birth and in the newborn period, and adult hemoglobin, which is active throughout the rest of life.

Each of the four protein subunits of hemoglobin carries an iron-containing molecule called heme. Heme molecules are necessary for red blood cells to pick up oxygen in the lungs and deliver it to the body's tissues. A complete hemoglobin protein is capable of carrying four oxygen molecules at a time (one attached to each heme molecule). Oxygen attached to hemoglobin gives blood its bright red color.

How are changes in the HBA1 gene related to health conditions?

alpha thalassemia - caused by mutations in the HBA1 gene

Deletions of the HBA1 and/or HBA2 genes are the most common cause of alpha thalassemia. Rarely, mutations in or near these genes can also be responsible for the disease. The signs and symptoms of alpha thalassemia tend to be more severe when the disease results from mutations in the alpha-globin genes than when it is caused by deletions of these genes.

People have two copies of the HBA1 gene and two copies of the HBA2 gene in each cell. Each copy is called an allele. For each gene, one allele is inherited from a person's father, and the other is inherited from a person's mother. As a result, there are four alleles that produce alpha-globin. The different types of alpha thalassemia result from the loss of some or all of these alleles.

Hb Bart syndrome, the most severe form of alpha thalassemia, results from the loss of all four alpha-globin alleles. This condition is characterized by a buildup of excess fluid in the body before birth (hydrops fetalis), a shortage of red blood cells (anemia), and an enlarged liver and spleen (hepatosplenomegaly). HbH disease, which is milder, is caused by a loss of three of the four alpha-globin alleles. HbH disease is characterized by mild to moderate anemia, hepatosplenomegaly, and yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice).

In Hb Bart syndrome and HbH disease, a shortage of alpha-globin prevents cells from making normal hemoglobin. Instead, cells produce abnormal forms of hemoglobin called hemoglobin Bart (Hb Bart) or hemoglobin H (HbH). These abnormal hemoglobin molecules cannot effectively carry oxygen to the body's tissues. The substitution of Hb Bart or HbH for normal hemoglobin causes anemia and the other serious health problems associated with alpha thalassemia.

Two additional variants of alpha thalassemia are related to a reduced amount of alpha-globin. Because cells still produce some normal hemoglobin, these variants tend to cause few or no health problems. A loss of two of the four alpha-globin alleles results in alpha thalassemia trait. People with alpha thalassemia trait may have unusually small, pale red blood cells and mild anemia. A loss of one alpha-globin allele is found in alpha thalassemia silent carriers. These individuals typically have no thalassemia-related signs or symptoms.

other disorders - caused by mutations in the HBA1 gene

A condition called alpha thalassemia-retardation 16 (ATR-16) results from a large deletion of genetic material from the short (p) arm of chromosome 16. The signs and symptoms of this condition result from the loss of many genes, including HBA1 and HBA2.

A deletion of the HBA1 and HBA2 genes leads to alpha thalassemia trait in most people with ATR-16. The loss of other genes causes additional features of the disorder, including intellectual disability, severely delayed language skills, an unusually small head size (microcephaly), and distinctive facial features. Affected males may also have undescended testes (cryptorchidism) and the urethra opening on the underside of the penis (hypospadias).

The signs and symptoms of ATR-16 vary depending on the size of the deletion. A particularly large deletion may include the PKD1 gene, which is responsible for polycystic kidney disease. A loss of this gene leads to the growth of multiple cysts in the kidneys. If the deletion also includes the TSC2 gene, an affected individual will develop tuberous sclerosis complex. This condition is characterized by the growth of noncancerous tumors in many parts of the body.

Where is the HBA1 gene located?

Cytogenetic Location: 16p13.3

Molecular Location on chromosome 16: base pairs 176,651 to 177,522

(Homo sapiens Annotation Release 107, GRCh38.p2) (NCBI (

The HBA1 gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 16 at position 13.3.

The HBA1 gene is located on the short (p) arm of chromosome 16 at position 13.3.

More precisely, the HBA1 gene is located from base pair 176,651 to base pair 177,522 on chromosome 16.

See How do geneticists indicate the location of a gene? ( in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about HBA1?

You and your healthcare professional may find the following resources about HBA1 helpful.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for genetics professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for the HBA1 gene or gene products?

  • alpha 1 globin
  • alpha-1 globin
  • alpha-1-globin
  • alpha one globin
  • CD31
  • HBA-T3
  • hemoglobin, alpha 1
  • hemoglobin alpha-1 chain
  • hemoglobin alpha 1 globin chain
  • MGC126895
  • MGC126897

See How are genetic conditions and genes named? ( in the Handbook.

What glossary definitions help with understanding HBA1?

allele ; anemia ; cell ; chromosome ; contiguous ; contiguous gene deletion syndrome ; cryptorchidism ; cysts ; deletion ; disability ; gene ; gene deletion ; Hb ; heme ; hemoglobin ; hepatosplenomegaly ; hydrops fetalis ; hypospadias ; inherited ; iron ; jaundice ; kidney ; locus ; microcephaly ; molecule ; oxygen ; polycystic kidney ; protein ; sclerosis ; substitution ; subunit ; syndrome ; T3 ; testes ; thalassemia ; trait

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.


  • Gene Review: Alpha-Thalassemia (
  • Harteveld CL, Kriek M, Bijlsma EK, Erjavec Z, Balak D, Phylipsen M, Voskamp A, di Capua E, White SJ, Giordano PC. Refinement of the genetic cause of ATR-16. Hum Genet. 2007 Nov;122(3-4):283-92. Epub 2007 Jun 28. (
  • Harvard University: Hemoglobin Synthesis (
  • Higgs DR, Weatherall DJ. The alpha thalassaemias. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2009 Apr;66(7):1154-62. doi: 10.1007/s00018-008-8529-9. Review. (
  • NCBI Gene (
  • Ribeiro DM, Sonati MF. Regulation of human alpha-globin gene expression and alpha-thalassemia. Genet Mol Res. 2008 Oct 14;7(4):1045-53. Review. (
  • Zhang HB, Liu DP, Liang CC. The control of expression of the alpha-globin gene cluster. Int J Hematol. 2002 Dec;76(5):420-6. Review. (


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Reviewed: August 2009
Published: February 1, 2016