A study of acute lung injury reveals the involvement of transcription factor HIF1A in lung protection, where normoxic HIF1A stabilization functions to control alveolar epithelial glucose metabolism.
While acute lung injury (ALI) contributes significantly to critical illness, it resolves spontaneously in many instances. The majority of patients experiencing ALI require mechanical ventilation. Therefore, we hypothesized that mechanical ventilation and concomitant stretch-exposure of pulmonary epithelia could activate endogenous pathways important in lung protection.
Methods and Findings
To examine transcriptional responses during ALI, we exposed pulmonary epithelia to cyclic mechanical stretch conditions—an in vitro model resembling mechanical ventilation. A genome-wide screen revealed a transcriptional response similar to hypoxia signaling. Surprisingly, we found that stabilization of hypoxia-inducible factor 1A (HIF1A) during stretch conditions in vitro or during ventilator-induced ALI in vivo occurs under normoxic conditions. Extension of these findings identified a functional role for stretch-induced inhibition of succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) in mediating normoxic HIF1A stabilization, concomitant increases in glycolytic capacity, and improved tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle function. Pharmacologic studies with HIF activator or inhibitor treatment implicated HIF1A-stabilization in attenuating pulmonary edema and lung inflammation during ALI in vivo. Systematic deletion of HIF1A in the lungs, endothelia, myeloid cells, or pulmonary epithelia linked these findings to alveolar-epithelial HIF1A. In vivo analysis of 13C-glucose metabolites utilizing liquid-chromatography tandem mass-spectrometry demonstrated that increases in glycolytic capacity, improvement of mitochondrial respiration, and concomitant attenuation of lung inflammation during ALI were specific for alveolar-epithelial expressed HIF1A.
These studies reveal a surprising role for HIF1A in lung protection during ALI, where normoxic HIF1A stabilization and HIF-dependent control of alveolar-epithelial glucose metabolism function as an endogenous feedback loop to dampen lung inflammation.
Acute lung injury is a devastating lung disease caused by injuries or acute infections to the lung. In patients it manifests itself as acute respiratory distress syndrome. Severe pulmonary edema and uncontrolled lung inflammation are typical symptoms of acute lung injury, which make it hard for patients to breath efficiently. In the clinical course of the disease, patients require mechanical ventilation to support their lung function and to provide sufficient oxygen levels to vital organs such as the brain, the heart, or the kidneys. We hypothesized that stretch conditions—such as those that occur during mechanical ventilation—result in transcriptional adaptation of alveolar epithelial cells—the innermost lining of the lungs. In this study we identified an unexpected involvement of the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor HIF1A in lung protection. We observed that during acute lung injury, stabilization of HIF1A is mediated by increased levels of succinate, an intermediate product of the citrate cycle. Interestingly, we show that HIF1A in alveolar epithelia functions to induce a transcriptional program that improves the efficiency of carbohydrate metabolism by injured lungs, thereby helping to adapt to the injurious conditions of mechanical stretch and to reduce lung inflammation. These preclinical findings highlight the potential for pharmacological HIF1A stabilization in the treatment of acute lung injury.