Defective Tibetan PHD2 Binding to p23 Links High Altitude Adaptation to Altered Oxygen Sensing [Cell Biology]

April 7th, 2014 by Song, D., Li, L.-s., Arsenault, P. R., Tan, Q., Bigham, A. W., Heaton-Johnson, K. J., Master, S. R., Lee, F. S.

The Tibetan population has adapted to the chronic hypoxia of high altitude. Tibetans bear a genetic signature in the Prolyl Hydroxylase Domain protein 2 (PHD2/EGLN1) gene, which encodes for the central oxygen sensor of the Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF) pathway. Recent studies have focused attention on two nonsynonymous coding region substitutions, D4E and C127S, both of which are markedly enriched in the Tibetan population. These amino acids reside in a region of PHD2 that harbors a zinc finger, which we have previously discovered binds to a Pro-Xaa-Leu-Glu (PXLE) motif in the HSP90 cochaperone p23, thereby recruiting PHD2 to the HSP90 pathway to facilitate HIF-α hydroxylation. We now report that the Tibetan PHD2 haplotype (D4E/C127S) strikingly diminishes the interaction of PHD2 with p23, resulting in impaired PHD2 downregulation of the HIF pathway. The defective binding to p23 depends on both the D4E and C127S substitutions. We also identify a PXLE motif in HSP90 itself that can mediate binding to PHD2, but find that this interaction is maintained with the D4E/C127S PHD2 haplotype. We propose that the Tibetan PHD2 variant is a loss of function (hypomorphic) allele, leading to augmented HIF activation to facilitate adaptation to high altitude.