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1.  Mutation of von Hippel–Lindau Tumour Suppressor and Human Cardiopulmonary Physiology 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e290.
The von Hippel–Lindau tumour suppressor protein–hypoxia-inducible factor (VHL–HIF) pathway has attracted widespread medical interest as a transcriptional system controlling cellular responses to hypoxia, yet insights into its role in systemic human physiology remain limited. Chuvash polycythaemia has recently been defined as a new form of VHL-associated disease, distinct from the classical VHL-associated inherited cancer syndrome, in which germline homozygosity for a hypomorphic VHL allele causes a generalised abnormality in VHL–HIF signalling. Affected individuals thus provide a unique opportunity to explore the integrative physiology of this signalling pathway. This study investigated patients with Chuvash polycythaemia in order to analyse the role of the VHL–HIF pathway in systemic human cardiopulmonary physiology.
Methods and Findings
Twelve participants, three with Chuvash polycythaemia and nine controls, were studied at baseline and during hypoxia. Participants breathed through a mouthpiece, and pulmonary ventilation was measured while pulmonary vascular tone was assessed echocardiographically. Individuals with Chuvash polycythaemia were found to have striking abnormalities in respiratory and pulmonary vascular regulation. Basal ventilation and pulmonary vascular tone were elevated, and ventilatory, pulmonary vasoconstrictive, and heart rate responses to acute hypoxia were greatly increased.
The features observed in this small group of patients with Chuvash polycythaemia are highly characteristic of those associated with acclimatisation to the hypoxia of high altitude. More generally, the phenotype associated with Chuvash polycythaemia demonstrates that VHL plays a major role in the underlying calibration and homeostasis of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, most likely through its central role in the regulation of HIF.
Editors' Summary
Human cells (like those of other multicellular animals) use oxygen to provide the energy needed for daily life. Having not enough oxygen is a problem, but having too much is also dangerous because it damages proteins, DNA, and other large molecules that keep cells functioning. Consequently, the physiological systems—including the heart, lungs, and circulation—work together to balance oxygen supply and demand throughout the body. When oxygen is limiting (a condition called hypoxia), as happens at high altitudes, the cellular oxygen supply is maintained by increasing the heart rate, increasing the speed and depth of breathing (hyperventilation), constricting the blood vessels in the lung (pulmonary vasoconstriction), and increasing the number of oxygen-carrying cells in the blood. All these physiological changes increase the amount of oxygen that can be absorbed from the air, but how they are regulated is poorly understood. By contrast, researchers know quite a bit about how individual cells respond to hypoxia. When oxygen is limited, a protein called hypoxia-inducible factor (or HIF) activates a number of target proteins that help the cell get enough oxygen (for example, proteins that stimulate the growth of new blood vessels). When there is plenty of oxygen, another protein, called von Hippel–Lindau tumor suppressor (abbreviated VHL), rapidly destroys HIF. Recently, researchers discovered that a genetic condition called Chuvash polycythaemia, characterised by the overproduction of red blood cells, is caused by a specific defect in VHL that reduces its ability to destroy HIF. As a result, the expression of certain HIF target proteins is increased even when oxygen levels are normal.
Why Was This Study Done?
Chuvash polycythaemia is very rare, and so far little is known about how this genetic abnormality affects the physiology and long-term health of patients. By studying heart and lung function in patients with Chuvash polycythaemia, the researchers involved in this study hoped to discover more about the health consequences of the condition and to find out whether the VHL–HIF system controls systemic responses to hypoxia as well as cellular responses.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited and studied three patients with Chuvash polycythaemia, and, as controls for the comparison, several normal individuals and patients with an unrelated form of polycythaemia. They then measured how the lungs and hearts of these people reacted to mild hypoxia (similar to that experienced on commercial air flights) and moderate hypoxia (equiv alent to being on the top of an Alpine peak). They found that patients with Chuvash polycythaemia naturally breathe slightly quicker and deeper than normal individuals, and that their breathing rate increased dramatically and abnormally when oxygen was reduced. They also found that at normal oxygen levels the pulmonary blood vessels of these patients were more constricted than those of control individuals, and that they reacted more extremely to hypoxia. Similarly, the normal heart rate of the patients was slightly higher than that of the controls and increased much more in response to mild hypoxia.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The physiological differences measured by the researchers between Chuvash polycythaemia patients and control individuals are similar to the adaptations seen in people traveling to high altitudes where oxygen is limited. Thus, the VHL–HIF proteins may regulate the response to different oxygen concentrations both in individual cells and at the systemic level, although more physiological studies are needed to confirm this. Because the pulmonary blood vessels of patients with Chuvash polycythaemia are always abnormally constricted, and even more so when oxygen is limited, these people should avoid living at high altitude and should minimise air travel, suggest the researchers. The increased blood pressure in their lungs (pulmonary hypertension) could conceivably cause heart failure under such circumstances. Finally, this study has implications for the development of drugs directed at the VHL–HIF system. Agents are currently being designed to promote the development of new blood vessels after strokes or heart attacks by preventing the destruction of HIF, but based on the findings here such agents might have undesirable physiological affects. Conversely, HIF inhibitors (which act as anti-cancer reagents by increasing hypoxia in the centre of tumors and so inhibiting their growth) might be useful in the treatment of pulmonary hypertension.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man page on Chuvash polycythaemia
• Information from the VHL Family Alliance on von Hippel–Lindau disease, including information on Chuvash polycythaemia
• Wikipedia page on polycythaemia and von Hippel–Lindau disease (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit)
Physiological study of patients with Chuvash polycythemia (caused by mutation of VHL) reveals characteristics similar to those associated with acclimatization to the hypoxia of high altitude.
PMCID: PMC1479389  PMID: 16768548
2.  Inactivation of the Arylhydrocarbon Receptor Nuclear Translocator (Arnt) Suppresses von Hippel-Lindau Disease-Associated Vascular Tumors in Mice 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(8):3163-3172.
Patients with germ line mutations in the VHL tumor suppressor gene are predisposed to the development of highly vascularized tumors within multiple tissues. Loss of pVHL results in constitutive activation of the transcription factors HIF-1 and HIF-2, whose relative contributions to the pathogenesis of the VHL phenotype have yet to be defined. In order to examine the role of HIF in von Hippel-Lindau (VHL)-associated vascular tumorigenesis, we utilized Cre-loxP-mediated recombination to inactivate hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (Hif-1α) and arylhydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (Arnt) genes in a VHL mouse model of cavernous liver hemangiomas and polycythemia. Deletion of Hif-1α did not affect the development of vascular tumors and polycythemia, nor did it suppress the increased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (Vegf) and erythropoietin (Epo). In contrast, phosphoglycerokinase (Pgk) expression was substantially decreased, providing evidence for target gene-dependent functional redundancy between different Hif transcription factors. Inactivation of Arnt completely suppressed the development of hemangiomas, polycythemia, and Hif-induced gene expression. Here, we demonstrate genetically that the development of VHL-associated vascular tumors in the liver depends on functional ARNT. Furthermore, we provide evidence that individual HIF transcription factors may play distinct roles in the development of specific VHL disease manifestations.
PMCID: PMC1069599  PMID: 15798202
3.  EAF2 loss enhances angiogenic effects of Von Hippel-Lindau heterozygosity on the murine liver and prostate 
Angiogenesis  2011;14(3):331-343.
Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease results from the inactivation of the VHL gene and is characterized by highly vascular tumors. A consequence of VHL loss is the stabilization of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) alpha subunits and increased expression of HIF target genes, which include pro-angiogenic growth factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). In mice, homozygous deletion of VHL is embryonic lethal due to vascular abnormalities in the placenta; and, VHL+/- mice develop proliferative vascular lesions in several major organs, most prominently the liver. Loss of ELL-associated factor (EAF2) in murine models has also been shown to induce increased vascular density in the liver as well as the prostate. Previously, EAF2 was determined to be a binding partner of VHL and loss of EAF2 induced a reduction in pVHL levels and an increase in hypoxia induced factor 1α (HIF1α) levels in vitro. Here we characterized the cooperative effects of VHL- and EAF2-deficiency on angiogenesis in the liver and prostate of male mice. VHL deficiency consistently increased the incidence of hepatic vascular lesions across three mouse strains. These vascular lesions where characterized by an increase in microvessel density, and staining intensity of VHL target proteins HIF1α and VEGF. EAF2-/-VHL+/- mice had increased incidence of proliferative hepatic vascular lesions (4/4) compared to VHL+/- (10/18) and EAF2-/- (0/5) mice. Prostates of EAF2-/-VHL+/- mice also displayed an increase in microvessel density, as well as stromal inflammation and prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia. These results suggest that cooperation of VHL and EAF2 may be critical for angiogenic regulation of the liver and prostate, and concurrent loss of these two tumor suppressors may result in a pro-angiogenic phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3155049  PMID: 21638067
Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL); ELL-associated factor 2 (EAF2); Hepatic vascular lesion; Prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN)
4.  EAF2 loss enhances angiogenic effects of Von Hippel-Lindau heterozygosity on the murine liver and prostate 
Angiogenesis  2011;14(3):331-343.
Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease results from the inactivation of the VHL gene and is characterized by highly vascular tumors. A consequence of VHL loss is the stabilization of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) alpha subunits and increased expression of HIF target genes, which include pro-angiogenic growth factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). In mice, homozygous deletion of VHL is embryonic lethal due to vascular abnormalities in the placenta; and, VHL+/− mice develop proliferative vascular lesions in several major organs, most prominently the liver. Loss of ELL-associated factor (EAF2) in murine models has also been shown to induce increased vascular density in the liver as well as the prostate. Previously, EAF2 was determined to be a binding partner of VHL and loss of EAF2 induced a reduction in pVHL levels and an increase in hypoxia induced factor 1α (HIF1α) levels in vitro. Here we characterized the cooperative effects of VHL- and EAF2-deficiency on angiogenesis in the liver and prostate of male mice. VHL deficiency consistently increased the incidence of hepatic vascular lesions across three mouse strains. These vascular lesions where characterized by an increase in microvessel density, and staining intensity of VHL target proteins HIF1α and VEGF. EAF2−/−VHL+/− mice had increased incidence of proliferative hepatic vascular lesions (4/4) compared to VHL+/− (10/18) and EAF2−/− (0/5) mice. Prostates of EAF2−/−VHL+/− mice also displayed an increase in microvessel density, as well as stromal inflammation and prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia. These results suggest that cooperation of VHL and EAF2 may be critical for angiogenic regulation of the liver and prostate, and concurrent loss of these two tumor suppressors may result in a pro-angiogenic phenotype.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10456-011-9217-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3155049  PMID: 21638067
Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL); ELL-associated factor 2 (EAF2); Hepatic vascular lesion; Prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN)
5.  HIF-1α: a Valid Therapeutic Target for Tumor Therapy 
Hypoxia plays a major role in the induction of angiogenesis during tumor development. One mechanism by which tumor cells respond to a reduced oxygen level is via the activation of hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1). HIF-1 is an oxygen-dependent transcriptional activator that plays crucial roles in the angiogenesis of tumors and mammalian development. HIF-1 consists of a constitutively expressed HIF-1β subunit and the highly regulated HIF-1α subunits. The stability and activity of HIF-1α are regulated by various post-translational modifications, hydroxylation, acetylation, phosphorylation and sumoyaltion. Therefore, HIF-1α interacts with several protein factors including PHD, pVHL, ARD-1, SUMO and p300/CBP. Under normoxia, the HIF-1α subunit is rapidly degraded via the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor gene product (pVHL)-mediated ubiquitin/proteasome pathway. The association of pVHL and HIF-1α under normoxic conditions is triggered by the hydroxylation of prolines and the acetylation of lysine within a polypeptide segment known as the oxygen-dependent degradation (ODD) domain. On the contrary, under the hypoxia condition, the HIF-1α subunit becomes stable and interacts with coactivators such as p300/CBP to modulate its transcriptional activity. Under hypoxic conditions, HIF-1 eventually acts as a master regulator of numerous hypoxia-inducible genes. The target genes of HIF-1 are especially related to angiogenesis, cell proliferation and survival, and to glucose and iron metabolism. Moreover, it was reported that the activation of HIF-1α is closely associated with a variety of tumors and oncogenic pathways. Hence, the blocking of HIF-1α itself or the blocking of HIF-1α interacting proteins inhibits tumor growth. Based on these findings, HIF-1 can be a prime target for anticancer therapies. Therefore, this review summarizes the molecular mechanism of HIF-1α stability, the biological functions of HIF-1 and its potential applications for cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC2843877  PMID: 20368827
ARD1; Angiogenesis; Anticancer therapy; Cell proliferation/survival; Glucose metabolism; HIF-1; Iron metabolism; PHD; SUMO; pVHL; p300/CBP; Transcription factor
6.  Hypoxia-inducible factor–2 (HIF-2) regulates hepatic erythropoietin in vivo 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007;117(4):1068-1077.
Erythropoiesis is critically dependent on erythropoietin (EPO), a glycoprotein hormone that is regulated by hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF). Hepatocytes are the primary source of extrarenal EPO in the adult and express HIF-1 and HIF-2, whose roles in the hypoxic induction of EPO remain controversial. In order to define the role of HIF-1 and HIF-2 in the regulation of hepatic EPO expression, we have generated mice with conditional inactivation of Hif-1α and/or Hif-2α (Epas1) in hepatocytes. We have previously shown that inactivation of the von Hippel–Lindau tumor suppressor pVHL, which targets both HIFs for proteasomal degradation, results in increased hepatic Epo production and polycythemia independent of Hif-1α. Here we show that conditional inactivation of Hif-2α in pVHL-deficient mice suppressed hepatic Epo and the development of polycythemia. Furthermore, we found that physiological Epo expression in infant livers required Hif-2α but not Hif-1α and that the hypoxic induction of liver Epo in anemic adults was Hif-2α dependent. Since other Hif target genes such phosphoglycerate kinase 1 (Pgk) were Hif-1α dependent, we provide genetic evidence that HIF-1 and HIF-2 have distinct roles in the regulation of hypoxia-inducible genes and that EPO is preferentially regulated by HIF-2 in the liver.
PMCID: PMC1838939  PMID: 17404621
7.  Estrogen receptor α is a novel target of the Von Hippel-Lindau protein and is responsible for the proliferation of VHL-deficient cells under hypoxic conditions 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(23):4462-4473.
The Von Hippel-Lindau gene (VHL) is frequently deleted or mutated in human renal cell carcinoma (RCC) at the early stage. According to the well-established theory, pVHL acts as a tumor suppressor through its E3 ligase activity, which targets hypoxia-inducing factor-1α (HIF-1α). However, the elevated expression of HIF-1α did not promote cell proliferation, indicating that there would be another target, which could promote cell proliferation at the early cancer stage of RCC. In this study, we show that estrogen receptor-α (ER-α) is a novel proteasomal degradation target of the pVHL E3 ligase. Indeed, the overexpression of VHL suppresses exo- and endogenous ER-α expression, whereas si-pVHL can increase ER-α expression. The negative regulation of pVHL on ER-α expression is achieved by its E3 ligase activity. Thus, pVHL can promote the ER-α ubiquitinylation. In addition, we revealed that ER-α and HIF-1α are competitive substrates of pVHL. Thus, under normal conditions, ER-α overexpression can increase the transcription factor activity of HIF-1α. Under the hypoxic condition, where HIF-1α is not a suitable target of pVHL, ER-α is more rapidly degraded by pVHL. However, in VHL-deficient cells, the expression of ER-α and HIF-1α is retained, so that the hypoxic condition did not suppress cell proliferation obviously compared with cells that are expressing pVHL. Thus, blocking of ER-α using its inhibitor could suppress the proliferation of VHL-deficient cells as effectively as hypoxia-induced growth suppression. Considering our results, blocking of ER-α signaling in VHL-deficient cancer cells would be beneficial for cancer suppression. Indeed, we showed the anti-proliferative effect of Faslodex in VHL-deficient cells.
PMCID: PMC3552928  PMID: 23159849
RCC; VHL; ER-alpha; hypoxia; cell proliferation
8.  Renal Cyst Development in Mice with Conditional Inactivation of the von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor 
Cancer research  2006;66(5):2576-2583.
Inactivation of the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor, pVHL, is associated with both hereditary and sporadic renal cysts and renal cell carcinoma, which are commonly thought to arise from the renal proximal tubule. pVHL regulates the protein stability of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-α subunits and loss of pVHL function leads to HIF stabilization. The role of HIF in the development of VHL-associated renal lesions remains to be determined. To investigate the functional consequences of pVHL inactivation and the role of HIF signaling in renal epithelial cells, we used the phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) promoter to generate transgenic mice in which Cre-recombinase is expressed in the renal proximal tubule and in hepatocytes. We found that conditional inactivation of VHL in PEPCK-Cre mutants resulted in renal cyst development that was associated with increased erythropoietin levels and polycythemia. Increased expression of the HIF target gene erythropoietin was limited to the liver, whereas expression of carbonic anhydrase 9 and multidrug resistance gene 1 was up-regulated in the renal cortex of mutant mice. Inactivation of the HIF-α binding partner, arylhydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator (Arnt), but not Hif-1α, suppressed the development of renal cysts. Here, we present the first mouse model of VHL-associated renal disease that will provide a basis for further genetic studies to define the molecular events that are required for the progression of VHL-associated renal cysts to clear cell renal cell carcinoma.
PMCID: PMC3514875  PMID: 16510575
9.  HER2 (neu) Signaling Increases the Rate of Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1α (HIF-1α) Synthesis: Novel Mechanism for HIF-1-Mediated Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Expression 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2001;21(12):3995-4004.
Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) is a transcriptional activator composed of HIF-1α and HIF-1β subunits. Several dozen HIF-1 targets are known, including the gene encoding vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Under hypoxic conditions, HIF-1α expression increases as a result of decreased ubiquitination and degradation. The tumor suppressors VHL (von Hippel-Lindau protein) and p53 target HIF-1α for ubiquitination such that their inactivation in tumor cells increases the half-life of HIF-1α. Increased phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and AKT or decreased PTEN activity in prostate cancer cells also increases HIF-1α expression by an undefined mechanism. In breast cancer, increased activity of the HER2 (also known as neu) receptor tyrosine kinase is associated with increased tumor grade, chemotherapy resistance, and decreased patient survival. HER2 has also been implicated as an inducer of VEGF expression. Here we demonstrate that HER2 signaling induced by overexpression in mouse 3T3 cells or heregulin stimulation of human MCF-7 breast cancer cells results in increased HIF-1α protein and VEGF mRNA expression that is dependent upon activity of PI3K, AKT (also known as protein kinase B), and the downstream kinase FRAP (FKBP-rapamycin-associated protein). In contrast to other inducers of HIF-1 expression, heregulin stimulation does not affect the half-life of HIF-1α but instead stimulates HIF-1α synthesis in a rapamycin-dependent manner. The 5′-untranslated region of HIF-1α mRNA directs heregulin-inducible expression of a heterologous protein. These data provide a molecular basis for VEGF induction and tumor angiogenesis by heregulin-HER2 signaling and establish a novel mechanism for the regulation of HIF-1α expression.
PMCID: PMC87062  PMID: 11359907
10.  Decreased Growth of Vhl−/− Fibrosarcomas Is Associated with Elevated Levels of Cyclin Kinase Inhibitors p21 and p27 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(11):4565-4578.
Inactivating mutations within the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene predispose patients to develop a variety of highly vascularized tumors. pVHL targets α subunits of the heterodimeric transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), a critical regulator of energy metabolism, angiogenesis, hematopoiesis, and oxygen (O2) delivery, for ubiquitin-mediated degradation in an O2-dependent manner. To investigate the role of Vhl in cellular proliferation and tumorigenesis, we utilized mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs), a common tool for analyzing cell cycle regulation, and generated Vhl−/− MEF-derived fibrosarcomas. Surprisingly, growth of both Vhl−/− MEFs and fibrosarcomas was impaired, although tumor vascularity was increased. Decreased proliferation of Vhl−/− MEFs was correlated with an overexpression of cyclin kinase inhibitors (CKIs) p21 and p27. The transcription of p21 and p27 is inhibited by c-Myc; therefore, the induction of CKIs was attributed to the ability of HIF to antagonize c-Myc activity. Indeed, p21 mRNA levels were elevated under normoxia in Vhl−/− MEFs, while c-Myc transcriptional activity was markedly reduced. Gene silencing of HIF-1α by small interfering RNA reduced p21 and p27 protein and mRNA levels in Vhl−/− MEFs. The induction of p21 and p27, mediated by constitutive activation of the HIF pathway, provides a mechanism for the decreased proliferation rates of Vhl−/− MEFs and fibrosarcomas. These results demonstrate that a loss of pVHL can induce growth arrest in certain cells types, which suggests that additional genetic mutations are necessary for VHL-associated tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC1140627  PMID: 15899860
11.  Targeting HIF2α Translation with Tempol in VHL-Deficient Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma 
Oncotarget  2012;3(11):1472-1482.
The tumor suppressor gene, Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL), is frequently mutated in the most common form of kidney cancer, clear cell renal cell carcinoma (CCRCC). In hypoxic conditions, or when there is a VHL mutation, the hypoxia inducible factors, HIF1α and HIF2α, are stabilized and transcribe a panel of genes associated with cancer such as vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR), platelet derived growth factor (PDGF), and glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1). Recent studies in clear cell kidney cancer have suggested that HIF2α, but not HIF1α, is the critical oncoprotein in the VHL pathway. Therefore, targeting HIF2α could provide a potential therapeutic approach for patients with advanced CCRCC. Since iron regulatory protein 1 (IRP1) is known to inhibit the translation of HIF2α, we investigated whether Tempol, a stable nitroxide that activates IRP1 towards IRE-binding, might have a therapeutic effect on a panel of human CCRCC cells expressing both HIF1α and HIF2α. We first evaluated the protein expression of HIF1α and HIF2α in 15 different clear cell renal carcinoma cell lines established from patient tumors in our laboratory. Tempol decreased the expression of HIF2α, and its downstream targets in all the cell lines of the panel. This effect was attributed to a dramatic increase of IRE-binding activity of IRP1. Several cell lines were found to have an increased IRP1 basal activity at 20% O2 compared to 5% O2, which may lower HIF2α expression in some of the cell lines in a VHL-independent manner. Taken together our data identify Tempol as an agent with potential therapeutic activity targeting expression of HIF2α in VHL-deficient clear cell kidney cancer and illustrate the importance of studying biochemical processes at relevant physiological O2 levels.
PMCID: PMC3717806  PMID: 23178531
HIF; Tempol; RCC; VHL; IRP1; iron metabolism
12.  VHL Type 2B gene mutation moderates HIF dosage in vitro and in vivo 
Oncogene  2009;28(14):1694-1705.
Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease is caused by germline mutations in the VHL tumor suppressor gene, with Type 2B missense VHL mutations predisposing to renal cell carcinoma, hemangioblastoma, and pheochromocytoma. Type 2B mutant pVHL is predicted to be defective in hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-α regulation. Murine embryonic stem (ES) cells in which the endogenous wild-type Vhl gene was replaced with the representative Type 2B VHL hotspot mutation R167Q (Vhl2B/2B) displayed preserved physiologic regulation of both HIF factors with slightly more normoxic dysregulation of HIF-2α. Differentiated Vhl2B/2B-derived teratomas over-expressed the joint HIF targets Vegf and EglN3 but not the HIF-1α-specific target Pfk1 and displayed a growth advantage over Vhl-/--derived teratomas, suggestive of a tight connection between perturbations in the degree and ratio of HIF-1α and HIF-2α stabilization and cell growth. Vhl2B/2B mice displayed mid-gestational embryonic lethality, while adult Vhl2B/+ mice exhibited susceptibility to carcinogen-promoted renal neoplasia compared with wild-type littermates at twelve months. Our experiments support a model in which the representative Type 2B R167Q mutant pVhl produces a unique profile of HIF dysregulation, thereby promoting tissue-specific effects on cell growth, development, and tumor predisposition.
PMCID: PMC2667565  PMID: 19252526
von Hippel-Lindau; hypoxia inducible factors; renal cell carcinoma
13.  STAT3 inhibits the degradation of HIF-1α by pVHL-mediated ubiquitination 
Experimental & Molecular Medicine  2008;40(5):479-485.
Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α) is rapidly degraded by the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway under normoxic conditions. Ubiquitination of HIF-1α is mediated by interaction with von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein (pVHL). In our previous report, we found that hypoxia-induced active signal transducer and activator of transcription3 (STAT3) accelerated the accumulation of HIF-1α protein and prolonged its half-life in solid tumor cells. However, its specific mechanisms are not fully understood. Thus, we examined the role of STAT3 in the mechanism of pVHL-mediated HIF-1α stability. We found that STAT3 interacts with C-terminal domain of HIF-1α and stabilizes HIF-1α by inhibition of pVHL binding to HIF-1α. The binding between HIF-1α and pVHL, negative regulator of HIF-1α stability, was interfered dose-dependently by overexpressed constitutive active STAT3. Moreover, we found that the enhanced HIF-1α protein levels by active STAT3 are due to decrease of poly-ubiquitination of HIF-1α protein via inhibition of interaction between pVHL and HIF-1α. Taken together, our results suggest that STAT3 decreases the pVHL-mediated ubiquitination of HIF-1α through competition with pVHL for binding to HIF-1α, and then stabilizes HIF-1α protein levels.
PMCID: PMC2679355  PMID: 18985005
anoxia; hypoxia-inducible factor1, α subunit; neoplasms; STAT3 transcription factor; ubiquitination; von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein
14.  Endothelial Function of von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Gene: Control of Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor Signaling 
Cancer research  2008;68(12):4649-4657.
von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease results from germline and somatic mutations in the VHL tumor suppressor gene and is characterized by highly vascularized tumors. VHL mutations lead to stabilization of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), which up-regulates proangiogenic factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). This pathway is therefore believed to underlie the hypervascular phenotypes of the VHL tumors. However, recent studies have identified novel VHL functions that are independent of the HIF-VEGF pathway. In addition, a potential role of VHL in the tumor microenvironment, which carries heterozygous VHL mutations in VHL patients, has been overlooked. Here, we report a novel HIF-independent VHL function in the endothelium. VHL knockdown in primary human microvascular endothelial cells caused defective turnover of surface fibroblast growth factor (FGF) receptor, increased extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling, and ETS1 activation, leading to increased cell motility in response to FGF and three-dimensional cord formation in vitro. HIF-α knockdown in VHL loss-of-function endothelial cells does not impede their elevated in vitro angiogenic activity. Importantly, the elevated angiogenic response to FGF is recapitulated in Vhl-heterozygous mice. Thus, partial loss of function of VHL in endothelium may be a contributing factor in tumor angiogenesis through a HIF-VEGF–independent mechanism.
PMCID: PMC2650247  PMID: 18559510
15.  pVHL Modification by NEDD8 Is Required for Fibronectin Matrix Assembly and Suppression of Tumor Development 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(8):3251-3261.
Functional inactivation of the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene is the cause of the familial VHL disease and most sporadic renal clear-cell carcinomas (RCC). pVHL has been shown to play a role in the destruction of hypoxia-inducible factor α (HIF-α) subunits via ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis and in the regulation of fibronectin matrix assembly. Although most disease-causing pVHL mutations hinder the regulation of the HIF pathway, every disease-causing pVHL mutant tested to date has failed to promote the assembly of the fibronectin matrix, underscoring its potential importance in VHL disease. Here, we report that a ubiquitin-like molecule called NEDD8 covalently modifies pVHL. A nonneddylateable pVHL mutant, while retaining its ability to ubiquitylate HIF, failed to bind to and promote the assembly of the fibronectin matrix. Expression of the neddylation-defective pVHL in RCC cells, while restoring the regulation of HIF, failed to promote the differentiated morphology in a three-dimensional growth assay and was insufficient to suppress the formation of tumors in SCID mice. These results suggest that NEDD8 modification of pVHL plays an important role in fibronectin matrix assembly and that in the absence of such regulation, an intact HIF pathway is insufficient to prevent VHL-associated tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC381603  PMID: 15060148
16.  HIF-2α downregulation in the absence of functional VHL is not sufficient for renal cell differentiation 
Mutational inactivation of the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene has been linked to hereditary as well as sporadic clear cell renal carcinomas. The product of the VHL gene, pVHL, acts to target hypoxia-inducible factor alpha (HIF-α) subunits for ubiquitination and subsequent degradation. Using an RNA interference approach to lower levels of HIF-2α in two different renal cell lines that lack functional pVHL, we have tested the contribution of HIF-2α toward cellular pVHL activities.
Knockdown of HIF-2α resulted in cell cycle arrest of renal cells that were grown on collagen I, indicating that this pVHL function is dependent on HIF-2α regulation. However, cellular morphological changes and downregulation of integrins α5 and β1, which were seen upon pVHL replacement, were not faithfully phenocopied by HIF-2α reduction. Moreover, fibronectin deposition and expression of renal cell differentiation markers were observed in cells containing replaced pVHL, but not in HIF-2α knockdown cells, indicating that these pVHL functions may occur independently of HIF-2α downregulation.
These results indicate that HIF-2α regulation is not sufficient for pVHL-induced renal cell differentiation. We hypothesize that in addition to HIF-2α dysregulation, abrogation of additional pVHL functions is required for the initiation of renal carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1919349  PMID: 17598890
17.  Contrasting Properties of Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1) and HIF-2 in von Hippel-Lindau-Associated Renal Cell Carcinoma 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(13):5675-5686.
Defective function of the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor ablates proteolytic regulation of hypoxia-inducible factor α subunits (HIF-1α and HIF-2α), leading to constitutive activation of hypoxia pathways in renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Here we report a comparative analysis of the functions of HIF-1α and HIF-2α in RCC and non-RCC cells. We demonstrate common patterns of HIF-α isoform transcriptional selectivity in VHL-defective RCC that show consistent and striking differences from patterns in other cell types. We also show that HIF-α isoforms display unexpected suppressive interactions in RCC cells, with enhanced expression of HIF-2α suppressing HIF-1α and vice-versa. In VHL-defective RCC cells, we demonstrate that the protumorigenic genes encoding cyclin D1, transforming growth factor alpha, and vascular endothelial growth factor respond specifically to HIF-2α and that the proapoptotic gene encoding BNip3 responds positively to HIF-1α and negatively to HIF-2α, indicating that HIF-1α and HIF-2α have contrasting properties in the biology of RCC. In keeping with this, HIF-α isoform-specific transcriptional selectivity was matched by differential effects on the growth of RCC as tumor xenografts, with HIF-1α retarding and HIF-2α enhancing tumor growth. These findings indicate that therapeutic approaches to targeting of the HIF system, at least in this setting, will need to take account of HIF isoform-specific functions.
PMCID: PMC1157001  PMID: 15964822
18.  Hypoxia-Inducible Factor Linked to Differential Kidney Cancer Risk Seen with Type 2A and Type 2B VHL Mutations▿ † 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(15):5381-5392.
Clear cell carcinoma of the kidney is a major cause of mortality in patients with von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease, which is caused by germ line mutations that inactivate the VHL tumor suppressor gene. Biallelic VHL inactivation, due to mutations or hypermethylation, is also common in sporadic clear cell renal carcinomas. The VHL gene product, pVHL, is part of a ubiquitin ligase complex that targets the alpha subunits of the heterodimeric transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) for destruction under well-oxygenated conditions. All VHL mutations linked to classical VHL disease compromise this pVHL function although some missense mutations result in a low risk of kidney cancer (type 2A VHL disease) while others result in a high risk (type 2B VHL disease). We found that type 2A mutants were less defective than type 2B mutants when reintroduced into VHL−/− renal carcinoma cells with respect to HIF regulation. A stabilized version of HIF2α promoted tumor growth by VHL−/− cells engineered to produce type 2A mutants, while knock-down of HIF2α in cells producing type 2B mutants had the opposite effect. Therefore, quantitative differences with respect to HIF deregulation are sufficient to account for the differential risks of kidney cancer linked to VHL mutations.
PMCID: PMC1952077  PMID: 17526729
19.  Inhibition of HIF2α Is Sufficient to Suppress pVHL-Defective Tumor Growth 
PLoS Biology  2003;1(3):e83.
Biallelic inactivation of the von Hippel–Lindau tumor suppressor gene (VHL) is linked to the development of hereditary (VHL-associated) and sporadic clear-cell renal carcinomas as well as other abnormalities. The VHL gene product, pVHL, is part of an E3 ubiquitin ligase complex that targets the α subunits of the heterodimeric transcription factor HIF (hypoxia-inducible factor) for degradation in the presence of oxygen. Here we report that a HIF2α variant lacking both of its two prolyl hydroxylation/pVHL-binding sites prevents tumor inhibition by pVHL in a DNA-binding dependent manner. Conversely, downregulation of HIF2α with short hairpin RNAs is sufficient to suppress tumor formation by pVHL-defective renal carcinoma cells. These results establish that tumor suppression by pVHL is linked to regulation of HIF target genes.
Specific downregulation of the transcription factor HIF2α is sufficient to suppress tumor formation by cells lacking the functional tumor suppressor (pVHL), demonstrating that tumor suppression by pVHL is linked to regulation of HIF target genes
PMCID: PMC300692  PMID: 14691554
20.  HIF-α effects on c-Myc distinguish two subtypes of sporadic VHL-deficient clear cell renal carcinoma 
Cancer cell  2008;14(6):435-446.
VHL tumor suppressor loss results in hypoxia inducible factor-alpha (HIF-α) stabilization, and occurs in 70% of sporadic clear cell renal carcinomas (ccRCCs). To determine whether opposing influences of HIF-1α and HIF-2α on c-Myc activity regulate human ccRCC progression, we analyzed VHL genotype and HIF-α expression in 160 primary tumors, which segregated into three groups with distinct molecular characteristics. Interestingly, ccRCCs with intact VHL, as well as pVHL-deficient, HIF-1α/HIF-2α expressing ccRCCs, exhibited enhanced Akt/mTOR and ERK/MAPK signaling. In contrast, pVHL-deficient ccRCCs expressing only HIF-2α displayed elevated c-Myc activity, resulting in enhanced proliferation and resistance to replication stress. These reproducible distinctions in ccRCC behavior delineate HIF-α effects on c-Myc in vivo and suggest molecular criteria for selecting targeted therapies.
Constitutive HIF activity is clearly associated with ccRCC tumorigenesis; however, the influence of individual HIF-α subunits on cell growth mechanisms in vivo is unknown. Few dominant oncogenic pathways have been identified within ccRCC, making it difficult to select optimal targeted therapies for patients, or to predict disease outcome, except by grade and stage. Cell culture experiments indicate that HIF-1α inhibits the c-Myc oncoprotein, whereas HIF-2α potentiates c-Myc transcriptional activity and cellular proliferation. The findings reported here indicate that HIF-1α and HIF-2α promote distinct oncogene activation in human ccRCCs, and reveal a critical role for HIF-2α and c-Myc in promoting genomic integrity. These results suggest that evaluating pVHL status and HIF-α expression may aid targeted therapy selection for human ccRCCs.
PMCID: PMC2621440  PMID: 19061835
21.  Microtubular Stability Affects pVHL-Mediated Regulation of HIF-1alpha via the p38/MAPK Pathway in Hypoxic Cardiomyocytes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35017.
Our previous research found that structural changes of the microtubule network influence glycolysis in cardiomyocytes by regulating the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1α during the early stages of hypoxia. However, little is known about the underlying regulatory mechanism of the changes of HIF-1α caused by microtubule network alternation. The von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein (pVHL), as a ubiquitin ligase, is best understood as a negative regulator of HIF-1α.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In primary rat cardiomyocytes and H9c2 cardiac cells, microtubule-stabilization was achieved by pretreating with paclitaxel or transfection of microtubule-associated protein 4 (MAP4) overexpression plasmids and microtubule–depolymerization was achieved by pretreating with colchicine or transfection of MAP4 siRNA before hypoxia treatment. Recombinant adenovirus vectors for overexpressing pVHL or silencing of pVHL expression were constructed and transfected in primary rat cardiomyocytes and H9c2 cells. With different microtubule-stabilizing and -depolymerizing treaments, we demonstrated that the protein levels of HIF-1α were down-regulated through overexpression of pVHL and were up-regulated through knockdown of pVHL in hypoxic cardiomyocytes. Importantly, microtubular structure breakdown activated p38/MAPK pathway, accompanied with the upregulation of pVHL. In coincidence, we found that SB203580, a p38/MAPK inhibitor decreased pVHL while MKK6 (Glu) overexpression increased pVHL in the microtubule network altered-hypoxic cardiomyocytes and H9c2 cells.
This study suggests that pVHL plays an important role in the regulation of HIF-1α caused by the changes of microtubular structure and the p38/MAPK pathway participates in the process of pVHL change following microtubule network alteration in hypoxic cardiomyocytes.
PMCID: PMC3323643  PMID: 22506063
22.  Degradation of HIF-1alpha under Hypoxia Combined with Induction of Hsp90 Polyubiquitination in Cancer Cells by Hypericin: a Unique Cancer Therapy 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e22849.
The perihydroxylated perylene quinone hypericin has been reported to possess potent anti-metastatic and antiangiogenic activities, generated by targeting diverse crossroads of cancer-promoting processes via unique mechanisms. Hypericin is the only known exogenous reagent that can induce forced poly-ubiquitination and accelerated degradation of heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) in cancer cells. Hsp90 client proteins are thereby destabilized and rapidly degraded. Hsp70 client proteins may potentially be also affected via preventing formation of hsp90-hsp70 intermediate complexes. We show here that hypericin also induces enhanced degradation of hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α) in two human tumor cell lines, U87-MG glioblastoma and RCC-C2VHL−/− renal cell carcinoma and in the non-malignant ARPE19 retinal pigment epithelial cell line. The hypericin-accelerated turnover of HIF-1α, the regulatory precursor of the HIF-1 transcription factor which promotes hypoxic stress and angiogenic responses, overcomes the physiologic HIF-1α protein stabilization which occurs in hypoxic cells. The hypericin effect also eliminates the high HIF-1α levels expressed constitutively in the von-Hippel Lindau protein (pVHL)-deficient RCC-C2VHL−/− renal cell carcinoma cell line. Unlike the normal ubiquitin-proteasome pathway-dependent turnover of HIF-α proteins which occurs in normoxia, the hypericin-induced HIF-1α catabolism can occur independently of cellular oxygen levels or pVHL-promoted ubiquitin ligation of HIF-1α. It is mediated by lysosomal cathepsin-B enzymes with cathepsin-B activity being optimized in the cells through hypericin-mediated reduction in intracellular pH. Our findings suggest that hypericin may potentially be useful in preventing growth of tumors in which HIF-1α plays pivotal roles, and in pVHL ablated tumor cells such as renal cell carcinoma through elimination of elevated HIF-1α contents in these cells, scaling down the excessive angiogenesis which characterizes these tumors.
PMCID: PMC3176203  PMID: 21949677
23.  A common polymorphism in the oxygen-dependent degradation (ODD) domain of hypoxia inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) does not impair Pro-564 hydroxylation 
Molecular Cancer  2003;2:31.
The hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) transcription complex, which is activated by low oxygen tension, controls a diverse range of cellular processes including angiogenesis and erythropoiesis. Under normoxic conditions, the α subunit of HIF is rapidly degraded in a manner dependent on hydroxylation of two conserved proline residues at positions 402 and 564 in HIF-1α in the oxygen-dependent degradation (ODD) domain. This allows subsequent recognition by the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor protein, which targets HIF for degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. Under hypoxic conditions, prolyl hydroxylation of HIF is inhibited, allowing it to escape VHL-mediated degradation. The transcriptional regulation of the erythropoietin gene by HIF raises the possibility that HIF may play a role in disorders of erythropoiesis, such as idiopathic erythrocytosis (IE).
Patients with IE were screened for changes in the HIF-1α coding sequence, and a change in the ODD domain that converts Pro-582 to Ser was identified in several patients. This same change, however, was also detected at a significant frequency, 0.073, in unaffected controls compared to 0.109 in the IE patient group. In vitro hydroxylation assays examining this amino acid change failed to reveal a discernible effect on HIF hydroxylation at Pro-564.
The Pro582Ser change represents a common polymorphism of HIF-1α that does not impair HIF-1α prolyl hydroxylation. Although the Pro582Ser polymorphism is located in the ODD domain of HIF-1α it does not diminish the association of HIF-1α with VHL. Thus, it is unlikely that this polymorphism accounts for the erythrocytosis in the group of IE patients studied.
PMCID: PMC212228  PMID: 14521712
24.  COMMD1 Promotes pVHL and O2-Independent Proteolysis of HIF-1α via HSP90/70 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(10):e7332.
The Copper Metabolism MURR1 Domain containing 1 protein COMMD1 has been associated with copper homeostasis, NF-κB signaling, and sodium transport. Recently, we identified COMMD1 as a novel protein in HIF-1 signaling. Mouse embryos deficient for Commd1 have increased expression of hypoxia/HIF-regulated genes i.e. VEGF, PGK and Bnip3. Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are master regulators of oxygen homeostasis, which control angiogenesis, erythropoiesis, glycolysis and cell survival/proliferation under normal and pathologic conditions. Although HIF activity is mainly controlled by ubiquitination and protein degradation by the von Hippel Lindau (pVHL) tumor suppressor gene other mechanisms have recently been identified that regulate HIF signaling independently of pVHL.
Principal Findings
Here we characterized the mechanism by which COMMD1 regulates HIF-1α protein degradation. We show that COMMD1 competes with the chaperone heat shock protein HSP90β for binding to the NH2-terminal DNA-binding and heterodimerization domain of HIF-1α to regulate HIF-1α stability together with HSP70. Inhibition of HSP90 activity with 17-Allylamino-17-demethoxygeldanamycin (17-AAG) increased COMMD1-mediated HIF-1α degradation independent of ubiquitin and pVHL.
These data reveal a novel role for COMMD1 in conjunction with HSP90β/HSP70 in the ubiquitin and O2-independent regulation of HIF-1α.
PMCID: PMC2750754  PMID: 19802386
25.  The VHL Tumor Suppressor: Master Regulator of HIF 
Current pharmaceutical design  2009;15(33):3895-3903.
Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are heterodimeric oxygen-sensitive basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors that play central roles in cellular adaptation to low oxygen environments. The von-Hippel Lindau tumor suppressor (pVHL) is the substrate recognition component of an E3 ubiquitin ligase and functions as a master regulator of HIF activity by targeting the hydroxylated HIF-alpha subunit for ubiquitylation and rapid proteasomal degradation under normoxic conditions. Mutations in pVHL can be found in familial and sporadic hemangioblastomas, clear cell carcinomas of the kidney, pheochromocytomas and inherited forms of erythrocytosis, illustrating the importance of disrupted molecular oxygen sensing in the pathogenesis of these diseases. Tissue-specific gene targeting of pVHL in mice has demonstrated that efficient execution of HIF proteolysis is critically important for normal tissue physiology, and has provided novel insights into the functional consequences of HIF activation on the cellular and tissue level. Here we focus on the contribution of individual HIF transcription factors to the development of VHL phenotypes and discuss how the pVHL/HIF axis could be exploited pharmacologically.
PMCID: PMC3622710  PMID: 19671042
von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor; hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF); renal cell cancer; hemangioblastoma; erythropoietin; anemia; metabolism; kidney cysts; mouse model

Results 1-25 (1119848)