BNP (brain-type natriuretic peptide) is a cardiac hormone with systemic haemodynamic effects as well as local cytoprotective and antiproliferative properties. It is induced under a variety of pathophysiological conditions, including decompensated heart failure and myocardial infarction. Since regional hypoxia is a potential common denominator of increased wall stretch and myocardial hypoperfusion, we investigated the direct effects of hypoxia on BNP expression, and the role of the HIF (hypoxia-inducible transcription factor) in BNP regulation. Using an RNase protection assay we found a strong hypoxic induction of BNP mRNA expression in different cell lines and in cultured adult rat cardiomyocytes. Systemic hypoxia and exposure to 0.1% CO induced BNP expression in the rodent myocardium in vivo, although this was at a lower amplitude. BNP promoter-driven luciferase expression increased 10-fold after hypoxic stimulation in transient transfections. Inactivation of four putative HREs (hypoxia-response elements) in the promoter by site-directed mutagenesis revealed that the HRE at −466 nt was responsible for hypoxic promoter activation. A functional CACAG motif was identified upstream of this HRE. The HIF-1 complex bound specifically and inducibly only to the HRE at −466 nt, as shown by EMSA (electrophoretic mobility-shift assay) and ChIP (chromatin immunoprecipitation). siRNA (small interfering RNA)-mediated knockdown of HIF-1α, but not HIF-2α, interfered with hypoxic BNP mRNA induction and BNP promoter activation, confirming that BNP is a specific HIF-1α target gene. In conclusion, BNP appears to be part of the protective program steered by HIF-1 in response to oxygen deprivation. Induction of BNP may therefore contribute to the potential benefits of pharmacological HIF inducers in the treatment of ischaemic heart disease and heart failure.

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