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1.  Small molecule inhibitors of HIF-2a translation link its 5’-UTR Iron-Responsive Element (IRE) to oxygen sensing 
Molecular cell  2008;32(6):838-848.
Cells transiently adapt to hypoxia by globally decreasing protein translation. However, specific proteins needed to respond to hypoxia evade this translational repression. The mechanisms of this phenomenon remain unclear. We screened for and identified small molecules that selectively decrease HIF-2a translation in an mTOR independent manner, by enhancing the binding of Iron Regulatory Protein 1 (IRP1) to a recently reported Iron-Responsive Element (IRE) within the 5’-untranslated region (UTR) of the HIF-2a message. Knocking down the expression of IRP1 by shRNA abolished the effect of the compounds. Hypoxia de-represses HIF-2a translation by disrupting the IRP1- HIF-2a IRE interaction. Thus, this chemical genetic analysis describes a molecular mechanism by which translation of the HIF-2a message is maintained during conditions of cellular hypoxia through inhibition of IRP-1 dependent repression. It also provides the chemical tools for studying this phenomenon.
PMCID: PMC3978139  PMID: 19111663
2.  HIF-1α and HIF-2α have divergent roles in colon cancer 
Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1 and HIF-2 are heterodimeric transcription factors that mediate the cellular response to hypoxia. Their key regulatory subunits, HIF-1α and HIF-2α, are induced similarly by hypoxia, but their functional roles in cancer may be distinct and isoform-specific. SW480 colon cancer cells with stable expression of siRNA to HIF-1α or HIF-2α or both were established. HIF-1α-deficient cells displayed lower rates of proliferation and migration, but HIF-2α-deficient cells exhibited enhanced anchorage independent growth in a soft agar assay. Xenograft studies revealed that HIF-1α deficiency inhibited overall tumor growth, whereas deficiency of HIF-2α stimulated tumor growth. In human colon cancer tissues, expression of HIF-1α and to a lesser extent, HIF-2α, was linked to upregulation of VEGF and tumor angiogenesis. However, loss of expression of HIF-2α but not HIF-1α was strongly correlated with advanced tumor stage. DNA microarray analysis identified distinct sets of HIF-1α and HIF-2α target genes that may explain these phenotypic differences. Collectively, these findings suggest that HIF isoforms may have differing cellular functions in colon cancer. In particular, HIF-1α promoted the growth of SW480 colon cancer cells but HIF-2α appeared to restrain growth. Consequently, therapeutic approaches that target HIF may need to consider these isoform-specific properties.
PMCID: PMC2682346  PMID: 19030186
colon cancer; HIF; angiogenesis
3.  Identification of Chemical Compounds that Induce HIF-1α Activity 
Toxicological Sciences  2009;112(1):153-163.
Cellular metabolism depends on the availability of oxygen and the major regulator of oxygen homeostasis is hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), a highly conserved transcription factor that plays an essential role in cellular and systemic homeostatic responses to hypoxia. HIF-1 is a heterodimeric transcription factor composed of hypoxia-inducible HIF-1α and constitutively expressed HIF-1β. Under hypoxic conditions, the two subunits dimerize, allowing translocation of the HIF-1 complex to the nucleus where it binds to hypoxia-response elements (HREs) and activates expression of target genes implicated in angiogenesis, cell growth, and survival. The HIF-1 pathway is essential to normal growth and development, and is involved in the pathophysiology of cancer, inflammation, and ischemia. Thus, there is considerable interest in identifying compounds that modulate the HIF-1 signaling pathway. To assess the ability of environmental chemicals to stimulate the HIF-1 signaling pathway, we screened a National Toxicology Program collection of 1408 compounds using a cell-based β-lactamase HRE reporter gene assay in a quantitative high-throughput screening (qHTS) format. Twelve active compounds were identified. These compounds were tested in a confirmatory assay for induction of vascular endothelial growth factor, a known hypoxia target gene, and confirmed compounds were further tested for their ability to mimic the effect of a reduced-oxygen environment on hypoxia-regulated promoter activity. Based on this testing strategy, three compounds (o-phenanthroline, iodochlorohydroxyquinoline, cobalt sulfate heptahydrate) were confirmed as hypoxia mimetics, whereas two compounds (7-diethylamino-4-methylcoumarin and 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracence) were found to interact with HIF-1 in a manner different from hypoxia. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of qHTS in combination with secondary assays for identification of HIF-1α inducers and for distinguishing among inducers based on their pattern of activated hypoxic target genes. Identification of environmental compounds having HIF-1α activation activity in cell-based assays may be useful for prioritizing chemicals for further testing as hypoxia-response inducers in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2910898  PMID: 19502547
cobalt sulfate heptahydrate; 7-diethylamino-4-methylcoumarin; 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracence; HIF-1α; inducers; iodochlorohydroxyquinoline; NTP 1408 compound library; o-phenanthroline; qHTS
4.  Inhibition of Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-1α (HIF-1α) Protein Synthesis by DNA Damage Inducing Agents 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10522.
Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is a heterodimeric transcription factor that is composed of a hypoxia-inducible α subunit (HIF-1α and HIF-2α) and a constitutively expressed β subunit (HIF-1β). HIF mediates the adaptation of cells and tissues to low oxygen concentrations. It also plays an important role in tumorigenesis and constitutes an important therapeutic target in anti-tumor therapy. We have screened a number of reported HIF inhibitors for their effects on HIF-transcriptional activity and found that the DNA damage inducing agents camptothecin and mitomycin C produced the most robust effects. Camptothecin is a reported inhibitor of HIF-1α translation, while mitomycin C has been reported to induce p53-dependent HIF-1α degradation. In this study we demonstrate that the inhibitory effect of mitomycin C on HIF-1α protein expression is not dependent on p53 and protein degradation, but also involves HIF-1α translational regulation. Initiation of a DNA damage response with the small molecule p53 activator NSC-652287 (RITA) has been reported to inhibit HIF-1α protein synthesis by increasing the phosphorylation of eIF2α. However, we show here that even when eIF2α phosphorylation is prevented, the DNA damage inducing drugs mitomycin C, camptothecin and NSC-652287 still inhibit HIF-1α protein synthesis to the same extent. The inhibitory effects of camptothecin on HIF-1α expression but not that of mitomycin C and NSC-652287 were dependent on cyclin-dependent kinase activity. In conclusion, specific types of DNA damage can bring about selective inhibition of HIF-1α protein synthesis. Further characterization of the involved mechanisms may reveal important novel therapeutic targets.
PMCID: PMC2866540  PMID: 20479887
5.  Factors interacting with HIF-1α mRNA: novel therapeutic targets 
Current pharmaceutical design  2009;15(33):3853-3860.
The heterodimeric transcription factor HIF-1 (hypoxia-inducible factor-1) induces angiogenesis, a process that is aberrantly elevated in cancer. The HIF-1β subunit is constitutively expressed, but the levels of the HIF-1α subunit are robustly regulated, increasing under hypoxic conditions and decreasing in normoxia. These changes result from rapid alterations in the rates of HIF-1α production and degradation. While the regulation of HIF-1α degradation is understood in significant detail, much less is known about the regulation of HIF-1α biosynthesis. Here, we review recent evidence that HIF-1α production is effectively controlled by post-transcriptional mechanisms. We focus on the RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) and the non-coding RNAs that interact with the HIF-1α mRNA and influence its half-life and translation rate. HIF-1α mRNA-binding factors are emerging as promising pharmacological targets to control HIF-1α production selectively and efficiently.
PMCID: PMC2791462  PMID: 19671045
post-transcriptional gene regulation; RNA-binding proteins; microRNA; antisense RNA; IRES
6.  The role of hypoxia-inducible factors in tumorigenesis 
Cell death and differentiation  2008;15(4):678-685.
Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are essential mediators of the cellular oxygen-signaling pathway. They are heterodimeric transcription factors consisting of an oxygen-sensitive alpha subunit (HIF-α) and a constitutive beta subunit (HIF-β) that facilitate both oxygen delivery and adaptation to oxygen deprivation by regulating the expression of genes that control glucose uptake, metabolism, angiogenesis, erythropoiesis, cell proliferation, and apoptosis. In most experimental models, the HIF pathway is a positive regulator of tumor growth as its inhibition often results in tumor suppression. In clinical samples, HIF is found elevated and correlates with poor patient prognosis in a variety of cancers. In summary, HIF regulates multiple aspects of tumorigenesis, including angiogenesis, proliferation, metabolism, metastasis, differentiation, and response to radiation therapy, making it a critical regulator of the malignant phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3050610  PMID: 18259193
hypoxia; cancer; HIF; metastasis
7.  Identification of small molecule compounds that inhibit the HIF-1 signaling pathway 
Molecular Cancer  2009;8:117.
Hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) is the major hypoxia-regulated transcription factor that regulates cellular responses to low oxygen environments. HIF-1 is composed of two subunits: hypoxia-inducible HIF-1α and constitutively-expressed HIF-1β. During hypoxic conditions, HIF-1α heterodimerizes with HIF-1β and translocates to the nucleus where the HIF-1 complex binds to the hypoxia-response element (HRE) and activates expression of target genes implicated in cell growth and survival. HIF-1α protein expression is elevated in many solid tumors, including those of the cervix and brain, where cells that are the greatest distance from blood vessels, and therefore the most hypoxic, express the highest levels of HIF-1α. Therapeutic blockade of the HIF-1 signaling pathway in cancer cells therefore provides an attractive strategy for development of anticancer drugs. To identify small molecule inhibitors of the HIF-1 pathway, we have developed a cell-based reporter gene assay and screened a large compound library by using a quantitative high-throughput screening (qHTS) approach.
The assay is based upon a β-lactamase reporter under the control of a HRE. We have screened approximate 73,000 compounds by qHTS, with each compound tested over a range of seven to fifteen concentrations. After qHTS we have rapidly identified three novel structural series of HIF-1 pathway Inhibitors. Selected compounds in these series were also confirmed as inhibitors in a HRE β-lactamase reporter gene assay induced by low oxygen and in a VEGF secretion assay. Three of the four selected compounds tested showed significant inhibition of hypoxia-induced HIF-1α accumulation by western blot analysis.
The use of β-lactamase reporter gene assays, in combination with qHTS, enabled the rapid identification and prioritization of inhibitors specific to the hypoxia induced signaling pathway.
PMCID: PMC2797767  PMID: 20003191
8.  Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3 is required for hypoxia-inducible factor-1α RNA expression in both tumor cells and tumor-associated myeloid cells 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2008;6(7):1099-1105.
Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) is a potent tumorigenic factor. Its alpha subunit (HIF-1α), which is tightly regulated in normal tissues, is elevated in tumors due to hypoxia and overactive growth signaling pathways. Although much is known about HIF-1α regulation in cancer cells, crucial molecular targets that affect HIF-1α levels modulated by both hypoxia and oncogenic signaling pathways remain to be identified. Additionally, whether and how the tumor microenvironment contributes to HIF-1α accumulation is unclear. This study demonstrates a novel mechanism by which HIF-1α availability is regulated in both cancer cells and in myeloid cells in the tumor microenvironment. We show a requirement of Stat3 for HIF-1α RNA expression under both hypoxia and growth signaling conditions. Furthermore, tumor-derived myeloid cells express elevated levels of HIF-1α mRNA relative to their counterparts from normal tissues in a Stat3-dependent manner. Additionally, Stat3 activity in the non-transformed cells in the tumor milieu impacts HIF-1α RNA expression of the entire growing tumor. Consistent with a role of Stat3 in regulating HIF-1α RNA transcription, elevated Stat3 activity increases HIF-1α promoter activity, and Stat3 protein binds to the HIF-1α promoter in both transformed cells and in growing tumors. Taken together, these findings demonstrate a novel mode by which HIF-1α is regulated not only in cancer cells but also in the tumor associated inflammatory cells, suggesting Stat3 as an important molecular target for inhibiting the oncogenic potential of HIF-1 induced by both hypoxia and overactive growth signaling pathways prevalent in cancer.
PMCID: PMC2775817  PMID: 18644974
9.  Changes in the Th1 : Th2 Cytokine Bias in Pregnancy and the Effects of the Anti-Inflammatory Cyclopentenone Prostaglandin 15-Deoxy-Δ12,14-Prostaglandin J2 
Mediators of Inflammation  2012;2012:416739.
Pregnancy is a complex immunological state in which a bias towards T helper 2 (Th2) protects the fetus. Evidence suggests that proinflammatory cytokines increase the risk of poor neonatal outcome, independently of the direct effect of preterm labour. The anti-inflammatory prostaglandin 15-deoxy-Δ12,14-Prostaglandin J2 (15dPGJ2) inhibits nuclear factor Kappa B (NF-κB) in amniocytes and myocytes in vitro and is a ligand for the chemoattractant receptor-homologous molecule expressed on Th2 cells (CRTH2) receptor. Here we examine the Th1:Th2 cytokine bias in pregnancy and whether 15dPGJ2 could be used to inhibit the production of the proinflammatory cytokines through inhibition of NF-κB while simultaneously promoting Th2 interleukin 4 (IL-4) synthesis via CRTH2 in T helper cells. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from women at 28 weeks, term pre-labour, term labour as well as non-pregnant female controls were cultured with 15dPGJ2 or vehicle control and stimulated with phorbol myristyl acetate (PMA)/ionomycin. The percentage of CD4+ cells producing interferon gamma (IFN-γ) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) in response to PMA/ionomycin was significantly reduced in pregnancy. 15dPGJ2 reduced IFN-γ and TNF-α production in stimulated T helper cells, but did not alter IL-4 production in CRTH2+ve cells. 15dPGJ2 also reduced phospho-p65 in stimulated PBMCs. In summary, 15dPGJ2 suppresses the Th1 response of PBMCs during pregnancy and active labour whilst maintaining the Th2 response suggesting a therapeutic benefit in reducing neonatal morbidity in inflammation-induced PTL.
PMCID: PMC3368617  PMID: 22690041
10.  Allosteric Inhibition of Hypoxia Inducible Factor-2 with Small Molecules 
Nature chemical biology  2013;9(4):271-276.
Hypoxia Inducible Factors (HIFs) are heterodimeric transcription factors induced in many cancers where they frequently promote the expression of many protumorigenic pathways. Though transcription factors are typically considered “undruggable”, the PAS-B domain of the HIF-2α subunit contains a large cavity within its hydrophobic core that offers a unique foothold for small-molecule regulation. Here we identify artificial ligands that bind within this pocket and characterize the resulting structural and functional changes caused by binding. Notably, these ligands antagonize HIF-2 heterodimerization and DNA-binding activity in vitro and in cultured cells, reducing HIF-2 target gene expression. Despite the high identity between HIF-2α and HIF-1α, these ligands are highly selective and do not affect HIF-1 function. These chemical tools establish the molecular basis for selective regulation of HIF-2, providing potential therapeutic opportunities to intervene in HIF-2-driven tumors such as renal cell carcinomas.
PMCID: PMC3604136  PMID: 23434853
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.  HIF-1alpha Expression Profile in Intratumoral and Peritumoral Inflammatory Cells as a Prognostic Marker for Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Oral Cavity 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e84923.
The HIF-1 transcriptional complex is responsible for controlling transcription of over 100 genes involved in cell hypoxia response. HIF-1alpha subunit is stabilized in hypoxia conditions, creating the HIF-1 nuclear transcription factor. In inflammatory cells, high HIF-1alpha expression induces lymphocytic immunosuppression, decreasing tumoral antigen recognition, which promotes tumor growth. The present work investigated the relationship between HIF-1alpha expression in lymphocytes populating the intratumoral and peritumoral region of 56 patients with oral cancer. Our data indicates a prognostic value for this expression. High HIF-1alpha expression in peritumoral inflammatory cells is significantly related to worse patient outcome, whereas high expression in the intratumoral lymphoid cells correlates with a better prognosis. A risk profile indicating the chance of disease relapse and death was designed based on HIF-1alpha expression in tumoral inflammatory cells, defining low, intermediate and high risks. This risk profile was able to determine that high HIF-1alpha expression in peritumoral cells correlates with worse prognosis, independently of intratumoral expression. Low HIF-1alpha in tumor margins and high expression in the tumor was considered a low risk profile, showing no cases of disease relapse and disease related death. Intermediate risk was associated with low expression in tumor and tumor margins. Our results suggest that HIF-1alpha expression in tumor and peritumoral inflammatory cells may play an important role as prognostic tumor marker.
PMCID: PMC3887011  PMID: 24416312
13.  Oxygen-independent degradation of HIF-α via bioengineered VHL tumour suppressor complex 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2009;1(1):66-78.
Tumour hypoxia promotes the accumulation of the otherwise oxygen-labile hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-α subunit whose expression is associated with cancer progression, poor prognosis and resistance to conventional radiation and chemotherapy. The oxygen-dependent degradation of HIF-α is carried out by the von Hippel–Lindau (VHL) protein-containing E3 that directly binds and ubiquitylates HIF-α for subsequent proteasomal destruction. Thus, the cellular proteins involved in the VHL–HIF pathway have been recognized as attractive molecular targets for cancer therapy. However, the various compounds designed to inhibit HIF-α or HIF-downstream targets, although promising, have shown limited success in the clinic. In the present study, we describe the bioengineering of VHL protein that removes the oxygen constraint in the recognition of HIF-α while preserving its E3 enzymatic activity. Using speckle variance–optical coherence tomography (sv–OCT), we demonstrate the dramatic inhibition of angiogenesis and growth regression of human renal cell carcinoma xenografts upon adenovirus-mediated delivery of the bioengineered VHL protein in a dorsal skin-fold window chamber model. These findings introduce the concept and feasibility of ‘bio-tailored’ enzymes in the treatment of HIF-overexpressing tumours.
PMCID: PMC3378113  PMID: 20049704
angiogenesis; ARNT; HIF; renal cell carcinoma; VHL
14.  BAY 87-2243, a highly potent and selective inhibitor of hypoxia-induced gene activation has antitumor activities by inhibition of mitochondrial complex I 
Cancer Medicine  2013;2(5):611-624.
The activation of the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) plays an essential role in tumor development, tumor progression, and resistance to chemo- and radiotherapy. In order to identify compounds targeting the HIF pathway, a small molecule library was screened using a luciferase-driven HIF-1 reporter cell line under hypoxia. The high-throughput screening led to the identification of a class of aminoalkyl-substituted compounds that inhibited hypoxia-induced HIF-1 target gene expression in human lung cancer cell lines at low nanomolar concentrations. Lead structure BAY 87-2243 was found to inhibit HIF-1α and HIF-2α protein accumulation under hypoxic conditions in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell line H460 but had no effect on HIF-1α protein levels induced by the hypoxia mimetics desferrioxamine or cobalt chloride. BAY 87-2243 had no effect on HIF target gene expression levels in RCC4 cells lacking Von Hippel–Lindau (VHL) activity nor did the compound affect the activity of HIF prolyl hydroxylase-2. Antitumor activity of BAY 87-2243, suppression of HIF-1α protein levels, and reduction of HIF-1 target gene expression in vivo were demonstrated in a H460 xenograft model. BAY 87-2243 did not inhibit cell proliferation under standard conditions. However under glucose depletion, a condition favoring mitochondrial ATP generation as energy source, BAY 87-2243 inhibited cell proliferation in the nanomolar range. Further experiments revealed that BAY 87-2243 inhibits mitochondrial complex I activity but has no effect on complex III activity. Interference with mitochondrial function to reduce hypoxia-induced HIF-1 activity in tumors might be an interesting therapeutic approach to overcome chemo- and radiotherapy-resistance of hypoxic tumors.
PMCID: PMC3892793  PMID: 24403227
Antitumor activity; hypoxia; hypoxia-inducible factor-1; mitochondrial complex 1
15.  Molecular genetic analysis of FIH-1, FH, and SDHB candidate tumour suppressor genes in renal cell carcinoma 
Journal of Clinical Pathology  2004;57(7):706-711.
Background: Overexpression of the hypoxia inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) and HIF-2 transcription factors and the consequent upregulation of hypoxia inducible mRNAs is a feature of many human cancers and may be unrelated to tissue hypoxia. Thus, the VHL (von Hippel-Lindau) tumour suppressor gene (TSG) regulates HIF-1 and HIF-2 expression in normoxia by targeting the α subunits for ubiquitination and proteolysis. Inactivation of the VHL TSG in VHL tumours and in sporadic clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC) results in overexpression of HIF-1 and HIF-2. However, RCC without VHL inactivation may demonstrate HIF upregulation, suggesting that VHL independent pathways for HIF activation also exist. In RCC, three candidate HIF activating genes exist—FIH-1 (factor inhibiting HIF), SDHB, and FH—which may be dependent or independent of VHL inactivation.
Aims: To investigate FIH-1, SDHB, and FH for somatic mutations in sporadic RCC.
Methods: Gene mutation was analysed in primary RCCs (clear cell RCCs, papillary RCCs, and oncocytomas) and RCC cell lines. SDHB mutation analysis was performed by denaturing high performance liquid chromatography followed by direct sequencing of aberrant PCR products. FH and FIH-1 mutation analysis were performed by single stranded conformational polymorphism and direct sequencing of PCR products.
Results: No mutations were identified in the three genes investigated.
Conclusions: There was no evidence to suggest that somatic mutations occur in the FH, FIH-1, or SDHB TSGs in sporadic RCCs.
PMCID: PMC1770369  PMID: 15220362
hypoxia response genes; mutation analysis; renal cell carcinoma
16.  Regulation of Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1α Expression and Function by the Mammalian Target of Rapamycin 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2002;22(20):7004-7014.
Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) is a heterodimeric transcription factor containing an inducibly expressed HIF-1α subunit and a constititutively expressed HIF-1β subunit. Under hypoxic conditions, the HIF-1α subunit accumulates due to a decrease in the rate of proteolytic degradation, and the resulting HIF-1α-HIF-1β heterodimers undergo posttranslational modifications that promote transactivation. Recent studies suggest that amplified signaling through phosphoinositide 3-kinase, and its downstream target, mTOR, enhances HIF-1-dependent gene expression in certain cell types. In the present study, we have explored further the linkage between mTOR and HIF-1 in PC-3 prostate cancer cells treated with hypoxia or the hypoxia mimetic agent, CoCl2. Pretreatment of PC-3 cells with the mTOR inhibitor, rapamycin, inhibited both the accumulation of HIF-1α and HIF-1-dependent transcription induced by hypoxia or CoCl2. Transfection of these cells with wild-type mTOR enhanced HIF-1 activation by hypoxia or CoCl2, while expression of a rapamycin-resistant mTOR mutant rendered both HIF-1α stabilization and HIF-1 transactivating function refractory to inhibition by rapamycin. Studies with GAL4-HIF-1α fusion proteins pinpointed the oxygen-dependent degradation domain as a critical target for the rapamycin-sensitive, mTOR-dependent signaling pathway leading to HIF-1α stabilization by CoCl2. These studies position mTOR as an upstream activator of HIF-1 function in cancer cells and suggest that the antitumor activity of rapamycin is mediated, in part, through the inhibition of cellular responses to hypoxic stress.
PMCID: PMC139825  PMID: 12242281
17.  Sphingosine-1-Phosphate as a Regulator of Hypoxia-Induced Factor-1α in Thyroid Follicular Carcinoma Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66189.
Sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) is a bioactive lipid, which regulates several cancer-related processes including migration and angiogenesis. We have previously shown S1P to induce migration of follicular ML-1 thyroid cancer cells. Hypoxia-induced factor-1 (HIF-1) is an oxygen-sensitive transcription factor, which adapts cells to hypoxic conditions through increased survival, motility and angiogenesis. Due to these properties and its increased expression in response to intratumoral hypoxia, HIF-1 is considered a significant regulator of tumor biology. We found S1P to increase expression of the regulatory HIF-1α subunit in normoxic ML-1 cells. S1P also increased HIF-1 activity and expression of HIF-1 target genes. Importantly, inhibition or knockdown of HIF-1α attenuated the S1P-induced migration of ML-1 cells. S1P-induced HIF-1α expression was mediated by S1P receptor 3 (S1P3), Gi proteins and their downstream effectors MEK, PI3K, mTOR and PKCβI. Half-life measurements with cycloheximide indicated that S1P treatment stabilized the HIF-1α protein. On the other hand, S1P activated translational regulators eIF-4E and p70S6K, which are known to control HIF-1α synthesis. In conclusion, we have identified S1P as a non-hypoxic regulator of HIF-1 activity in thyroid cancer cells, studied the signaling involved in S1P-induced HIF-1α expression and shown S1P-induced migration to be mediated by HIF-1.
PMCID: PMC3688870  PMID: 23824493
18.  (2R)-[(4-Biphenylylsulfonyl)amino]-N-hydroxy-3-phenylpropionamide (BiPS), a Matrix Metalloprotease Inhibitor, Is a Novel and Potent Activator of Hypoxia-Inducible Factors 
Molecular pharmacology  2008;74(1):282-288.
Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are unstable heterodimeric transcription factors and decisive elements for the transcriptional regulation of genes important in the adaptation to low-oxygen conditions. Hypoxia is the ubiquitous inducer of HIFs, stabilizing the α-subunit and permitting the formation of a functional HIF complex. Here, we identify (2R)-[(4-biphenylylsulfonyl)amino]-N-hydroxy-3-phenylpropionamide (BiPS), a commercially available metalloprotease-2 and -9 inhibitor, as a rapid and potent inducer of HIFs. We show that in different cell lines, BiPS induces the HIF-α subunit by inhibiting its degradation through stabilization of its labile oxygen-dependent degradation domain. This is achieved through the inhibition of HIF-1α hydroxylation. The HIF-1 complex, formed after BiPS treatment, is capable of DNA binding and activation of HIF target genes, including the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor. Because novel HIF activators have generated considerable interest in the possible treatment of different ischemic diseases, we believe that BiPS and derivative molecules could have strong therapeutic potential.
PMCID: PMC3050611  PMID: 18424552
19.  Myc post-transcriptionally induces HIF1 protein and target gene expression in normal and cancer cells 
Cancer Research  2011;72(4):949-957.
c-Myc is frequently overexpressed in tumors and plays an important role in the regulation of cancer metabolism. Hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF1), the master regulator of the hypoxic response, enhances tumorigenesis and influences metabolism via upregulation of the glycolytic pathway and suppression of mitochondrial respiration. Together, deregulated Myc and HIF1 cooperate to lend metabolic advantages to proliferating cancer cells and contribute to the Warburg Effect. Here we show that overexpression of Myc significantly stabilizes the alpha subunit of HIF1 (HIF1alpha) under normoxic conditions and enhances HIF1alpha accumulation under hypoxic conditions in cells. Post-transcriptional regulation of HIF1α by Myc led to the induction of HIF1α gene targets. Normoxic HIF1α protein expression was also dependent on Myc. Functionally; HIF1α expression was required for Myc-induced anchorage-independent growth and cell proliferation. Myc-dependent stabilization of HIF1α involved either disruption of binding to the VHL complex or post-translational protein modifications. Taken together, our findings uncover a previously uncharacterized regulatory relationship between Myc and HIF1 that has important implications for cancer metabolism and development.
PMCID: PMC3288382  PMID: 22186139
20.  Down-Regulation of the Expression of the FIH-1 and ARD-1 Genes at the Transcriptional Level by Nickel and Cobalt in the Human Lung Adenocarcinoma A549 Cell Line 
Although nickel and cobalt compounds have been known to cause induction of the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) and activation of a battery of hypoxia-inducible genes in the cell, the molecular mechanisms of this induction remain unclear. The post-translational modification of HIF-1a, the oxygen-sensitive subunit of HIF-1, regulates stabilization, nuclear translocation, DNA binding activity, and transcriptional activity of the protein. Among the enzymes regulating the post-translational modification of HIF-1a, the factor inhibiting HIF-1 (FIH-1) hydroxylates the protein at asparagine 803, suppressing the interaction of HIF-1a with transcription coactivators p300/CBP and reducing the transcriptional activity of the protein. ARD-1, the acetyltransferase, acetylates HIF-1a at lysine 532, which enhances the interaction of HIF-1a with pVHL. Therefore, FIH-1 and ARD-1 negatively regulate the transcriptional activity and the stability of HIF-1a. We examined the mRNA levels of FIH-1 and ARD-1 genes after exposure nickel (II) or cobalt (II) to the cell and found that both genes were down-regulated by the chemical treatment, which may lead to reduced levels of both proteins and result in increased level of HIF-1a and its transcriptional activity.
PMCID: PMC3814691  PMID: 16705796
nickel; cobalt; hypoxia; HIF-1a; FIH-1; ARD-1
21.  Hypoxia-Inducible Factor Directs POMC Gene to Mediate Hypothalamic Glucose Sensing and Energy Balance Regulation 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(7):e1001112.
Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is a nuclear transcription factor that responds to environmental and pathological hypoxia to induce metabolic adaptation, vascular growth, and cell survival. Here we found that HIF subunits and HIF2α in particular were normally expressed in the mediobasal hypothalamus of mice. Hypothalamic HIF was up-regulated by glucose to mediate the feeding control of hypothalamic glucose sensing. Two underlying molecular pathways were identified, including suppression of PHDs by glucose metabolites to prevent HIF2α degradation and the recruitment of AMPK and mTOR/S6K to regulate HIF2α protein synthesis. HIF activation was found to directly control the transcription of POMC gene. Genetic approach was then employed to develop conditional knockout mice with HIF inhibition in POMC neurons, revealing that HIF loss-of-function in POMC neurons impaired hypothalamic glucose sensing and caused energy imbalance to promote obesity development. The metabolic effects of HIF in hypothalamic POMC neurons were independent of leptin signaling or pituitary ACTH pathway. Hypothalamic gene delivery of HIF counteracted overeating and obesity under conditions of nutritional excess. In conclusion, HIF controls hypothalamic POMC gene to direct the central nutrient sensing in regulation of energy and body weight balance.
Author Summary
The hypothalamus in the brain is a master regulator of feeding and body weight. The regulation of it is mediated by the ability of the hypothalamus to sense nutrients (most importantly glucose) and hormones (such as insulin and leptin). While hormone has been extensively studied, we know less about how the hypothalamus can sense nutrients. It is also unclear whether changes in hypothalamic nutrient sensing can influence the development of obesity and related disease, and could therefore be targeted for disease intervention. In this study, we show that a protein termed hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is normally present in the hypothalamus and able to respond to glucose. This glucose response leads to the up-regulation of a hypothalamic neuropeptide, POMC, a pivotal molecule that controls feeding and body weight balance. We then developed a mouse model in which HIF is disrupted in hypothalamic cells that express POMC. These mice displayed reduced hypothalamic sensitivity to glucose, resulting in overeating and susceptibility to obesity. Furthermore, we found that delivery of the HIF gene into the hypothalamus has strong anti-obesity effects in mice. We conclude that HIF is a molecular mediator of hypothalamic glucose sensing and can be potentially targeted for obesity therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3144184  PMID: 21814490
22.  Putative role of HIF transcriptional activity in melanocytes and melanoma biology 
Dermato-endocrinology  2013;5(2):239-251.
Hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) is a highly oxygen sensitive bHLH protein that is part of the heterodimeric HIF-1 transcription factor. Under hypoxic stress, HIF-1 activity is induced to control expression of multiple downstream target genes, including vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The normal epidermis exists in a constant mild hypoxic microenvironment and constitutively expresses HIF-1α and HIF-2α. Expression of HIF-1α and/or HIF-2α has been suggested to correlate with the increased malignant potential of melanocytes, therefore, failures of melanoma therapies may be partially linked to high HIF activity. Notably, melanomas that have the V600E BRAF mutation exhibit increased HIF-1α expression. We have utilized a bioinformatics approach to identify putative hypoxia response elements (HREs) in a set of genes known to participate in the process of melanogenesis (includingTRPM1, SLC45A2, HRAS, C-KIT, PMEL and CRH). While some of the mechanistic links between these genes and the HIF pathway have been previously explored, others await further investigation. Although agents targeting HIF activity have been proposed as novel treatment modalities for melanoma, there are currently no clinical trials in progress to test their efficacy in melanoma.
PMCID: PMC3772912  PMID: 24194964
HIF-1; keratinocytes; melanocytes; melanoma; oncogenesis; skin
23.  Latent Kaposi's Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus Infection of Endothelial Cells Activates Hypoxia-Induced Factors▿  
Journal of Virology  2006;80(21):10802-10812.
Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV or HHV-8) is the etiological agent of Kaposi's sarcoma, a highly vascularized, endothelial-derived tumor. A direct role for KSHV-mediated induction of angiogenesis has been proposed based upon the nature of the neoplasia and various KSHV gene overexpression and infection model systems. We have found that KSHV infection of endothelial cells induces mRNA of hypoxia-induced factor 1α (HIF1α) and HIF2α, two homologous alpha subunits of the heterodimeric transcription factor HIF. HIF is a master regulator of both developmental and pathological angiogenesis, composed of an oxygen-sensitive alpha subunit and a constitutively expressed beta subunit. HIF is classically activated posttranscriptionally with hypoxia, leading to increased protein stability of HIF1α and/or HIF2α. However, we demonstrate that both alpha subunits are up-regulated at the transcript level by KSHV infection. The transcriptional activation of HIF leads to a functional increase in HIF activity under normoxic conditions, as demonstrated by both luciferase reporter assay and the increased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 1 (VEGFR1), an HIF-responsive gene. KSHV infection synergizes with hypoxia mimics and induces higher expression levels of HIF1α and HIF2α protein, and HIF1α is increased in a significant proportion of the latently infected endothelial cells. Src family kinases are required for the activation of HIF and the downstream gene VEGFR1 by KSHV. We also show that KS lesions, in vivo, express elevated levels of HIF1α and HIF2α proteins. Thus, KSHV stimulates the HIF pathway via transcriptional up-regulation of both HIF alphas, and this activation may play a role in KS formation, localization, and progression.
PMCID: PMC1641760  PMID: 16956952
24.  Identification of a novel small molecule HIF-1α translation inhibitor 
Hypoxia inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) is the central mediator of the cellular response to low oxygen and functions as a transcription factor for a broad range of genes that provide adaptive responses to oxygen deprivation. HIF-1 is over-expressed in cancer and has become an important therapeutic target in solid tumors. In this study, a novel HIF-1α inhibitor was identified and its molecular mechanism was investigated.
Experimental Design
Using a HIF-responsive reporter cell-based assay, a 10,000-membered natural product-like chemical compound library was screened to identify novel HIF-1 inhibitors. This led us to discover KC7F2, a lead compound with a central structure of cystamine. The effects of KC7F2 on HIF-1 transcription, translation and protein degradation processes were analyzed.
KC7F2 markedly inhibited HIF-mediated transcription in cells derived from different tumor types, including glioma, breast and prostate cancers and exhibited enhanced cytotoxicity under hypoxia. KC7F2 prevented the activation of HIF-target genes such as Carbonic Anhydrase IX, Matrix Metalloproteinase 2 (MMP2), Endothelin 1 and Enolase 1. Investigation of the mechanism of action of KC7F2 showed that it worked through the down-regulation of HIF-1α protein synthesis, an effect accompanied by the suppression of the phosphorylation of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E binding protein 1 (4EBP1) and p70 S6 kinase (S6K), key regulators of HIF-1α protein synthesis.
These results show that KC7F2 is a potent HIF-1 pathway inhibitor and that its potential as a cancer therapy agent warrants further study.
PMCID: PMC2770235  PMID: 19789328
25.  Hypoxia Inducible Factor 3α Plays a Critical Role in Alveolarization and Distal Epithelial Cell Differentiation during Mouse Lung Development 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57695.
Lung development occurs under relative hypoxia and the most important oxygen-sensitive response pathway is driven by Hypoxia Inducible Factors (HIF). HIFs are heterodimeric transcription factors of an oxygen-sensitive subunit, HIFα, and a constitutively expressed subunit, HIF1β. HIF1α and HIF2α, encoded by two separate genes, contribute to the activation of hypoxia inducible genes. A third HIFα gene, HIF3α, is subject to alternative promoter usage and splicing, leading to three major isoforms, HIF3α, NEPAS and IPAS. HIF3α gene products add to the complexity of the hypoxia response as they function as dominant negative inhibitors (IPAS) or weak transcriptional activators (HIF3α/NEPAS). Previously, we and others have shown the importance of the Hif1α and Hif2α factors in lung development, and here we investigated the role of Hif3α during pulmonary development. Therefore, HIF3α was conditionally expressed in airway epithelial cells during gestation and although HIF3α transgenic mice were born alive and appeared normal, their lungs showed clear abnormalities, including a post-pseudoglandular branching defect and a decreased number of alveoli. The HIF3α expressing lungs displayed reduced numbers of Clara cells, alveolar epithelial type I and type II cells. As a result of HIF3α expression, the level of Hif2α was reduced, but that of Hif1α was not affected. Two regulatory genes, Rarβ, involved in alveologenesis, and Foxp2, a transcriptional repressor of the Clara cell specific Ccsp gene, were significantly upregulated in the HIF3α expressing lungs. In addition, aberrant basal cells were observed distally as determined by the expression of Sox2 and p63. We show that Hif3α binds a conserved HRE site in the Sox2 promoter and weakly transactivated a reporter construct containing the Sox2 promoter region. Moreover, Hif3α affected the expression of genes not typically involved in the hypoxia response, providing evidence for a novel function of Hif3α beyond the hypoxia response.
PMCID: PMC3581546  PMID: 23451260

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