An important regulator involved in oxygen-dependent gene expression is the transcription factor HIF (hypoxia-inducible factor), which is composed of an oxygen-sensitive α-subunit (HIF-1α or HIF-2α) and a constitutively expressed β-subunit. In normoxia, HIF-1α is destabilized by post-translational hydroxylation of Pro-564 and Pro-402 by a family of oxygen-sensitive dioxygenases. The three HIF-modifying human enzymes have been termed prolyl hydroxylase domain containing proteins (PHD1, PHD2 and PHD3). Prolyl hydroxylation leads to pVHL (von-Hippel-Lindau protein)-dependent ubiquitination and rapid proteasomal degradation of HIF-1α. In the present study, we report that human PHD2 and PHD3 are induced by hypoxia in primary and transformed cell lines. In the human osteosarcoma cell line, U2OS, selective suppression of HIF-1α expression by RNA interference resulted in a complete loss of hypoxic induction of PHD2 and PHD3. Induction of PHD2 by hypoxia was lost in pVHL-deficient RCC4 cells. These results suggest that hypoxic induction of PHD2 and PHD3 is critically dependent on HIF-α. Using a VHL capture assay, we demonstrate that HIF-α prolyl-4-hydroxylase capacity of cytoplasmic and nuclear protein extracts was enhanced by prolonged exposure to hypoxia. Degradation of HIF-1α after reoxygenation was accelerated, which demonstrates functional relevance of the present results. We propose a direct, negative regulatory mechanism, which limits accumulation of HIF-1α in hypoxia and leads to accelerated degradation on reoxygenation after long-term hypoxia.

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