The role of HIF-1α in transcriptional regulation of the proximal tubular epithelial cell response to hypoxia

Martin O. Leonard, David C. Cottell, Catherine Godson, Hugh R. Brady, Cormac T. Taylor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Citations (Scopus)


Epithelial cells of the kidney represent a primary target for hypoxic injury in ischemic acute renal failure (ARF); however, the underlying transcriptional mechanism(s) remain undefined. In this study, human proximal tubular epithelial cells (HK-2) exposed to hypoxia in vitro demonstrated a non-lethal but dysfunctional phenotype, closely reflective of the epithelial pathobiology of ARF. HK-2 cells exposed to hypoxia demonstrated increased paracellular permeability, decreased proliferation, loss of tight junctional integrity, and significant actin disassembly in the absence of cell death. Microarray analysis of transcriptomic changes underlying this response identified a distinct cohort of 48 genes with a closely shared hypoxia-dependent expression profile. Within this hypoxia-sensitive cluster were genes identified previously as hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) -dependent (e.g. vascular endothelial growth factor and adrenomedullin) as well as genes not previously known to be hypoxia-responsive (e.g. stanniocalcin 2). In hypoxia, HIF-1 bound to evolutionarily conserved hypoxia-response elements (HRE) in the promoters of these genes as well as to the HRE consensus motif. A further subset of these genes, not associated with transcriptional regulation by HIF-1, was also present, suggesting alternative HIF-1-independent pathways. Overexpression of HIF-1α in normoxia induced the expression of a significant number of the hypoxia-dependent genes; however, it did not induce the pathophysiologic epithelial response. In summary, hypoxia-elicited alterations in renal proximal tubular epithelial cells in vitro closely resemble the epithelial pathophysiology of ARF. Our data indicate that although this event may rely heavily on HIF-1-dependent gene transcription, it is likely that separate hypoxia-dependent transcriptional regulators also play a role.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40296-40304
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number41
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2003


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