Signaling by the TGF-β superfamily is important in the regulation of hematopoiesis and is dysregulated in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDSs), contributing to ineffective hematopoiesis and clinical cytopenias. TGF-β, activins, and growth differentiation factors exert inhibitory effects on red cell formation by activating canonical SMAD2/3 pathway signaling. In this Review, we summarize evidence that overactivation of SMAD2/3 signaling pathways in MDSs causes anemia due to impaired erythroid maturation. We also describe the basis for biological activity of activin receptor ligand traps, novel fusion proteins such as luspatercept that are promising as erythroid maturation agents to alleviate anemia and related comorbidities in MDSs and other conditions characterized by impaired erythroid maturation.
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