Tight control of Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF)-alpha transient dynamics is essential for cell survival in hypoxia [Signal Transduction]

January 6th, 2014 by Bagnall, J., Leedale, J., Taylor, S., Spiller, D. G., White, M. R. H., Sharkey, K. J., Bearon, R. N., See, V.

Intracellular signaling involving hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) controls the adaptive responses to hypoxia. There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that intracellular signals encode temporal information. Thus, the dynamics of protein levels, as well as protein quantity and/or localization, impacts on cell fate. We hypothesized that such temporal encoding has a role in HIF signaling and cell fate decisions triggered by hypoxic conditions. Using live cell imaging in a controlled oxygen environment, we observed transient 3 hour pulses of HIF-1α and -2α expression under continuous hypoxia. We postulated that the well described Prolyl Hydroxylase (PHD) oxygen sensors and HIF negative feedback regulators could be the origin of the pulsatile HIF dynamics. We used iterative mathematical modeling and experimental analysis to scrutinize which parameter of the PHD feedback could control HIF timing and we probed for the functional redundancy between the three main PHD proteins. We identified PHD2 as the main PHD responsible for HIF peak duration. We then demonstrated that this has important consequences, since the transient nature of the HIF pulse prevents cell death by avoiding the transcription of p53-dependent pro-apoptotic genes. We have further shown the importance of considering HIF dynamics for coupling mathematical models by using a described HIF-p53 mathematical model. Our results indicate that the tight control of HIF transient dynamics has important functional consequences on the cross talk with key signaling pathways controlling cell survival, which is likely to impact on HIF targeting strategies for hypoxia associated diseases such as tumor progression and ischemia.