To understand the mechanism of cellular stress in basal–parabasal layers of normal cervical epithelium and during different stages of cervical carcinoma, we analyzed the alterations (expression/methylation/copy number variation/mutation) of HIF-1α and its associated genes LIMD1, VHL and VEGF in disease-free normal cervix (n = 9), adjacent normal cervix of tumors (n = 70), cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN; n = 32), cancer of uterine cervix (CACX; n = 174) samples and two CACX cell lines. In basal–parabasal layers of normal cervical epithelium, LIMD1 showed high protein expression, while low protein expression of VHL was concordant with high expression of HIF-1α and VEGF irrespective of HPV-16 (human papillomavirus 16) infection. This was in concordance with the low promoter methylation of LIMD1 and high in VHL in the basal–parabasal layers of normal cervix. LIMD1 expression was significantly reduced while VHL expression was unchanged during different stages of cervical carcinoma. This was in concordance with their frequent methylation during different stages of this tumor. In different stages of cervical carcinoma, the expression pattern of HIF-1α and VEGF was high as seen in basal–parabasal layers and inversely correlated with the expression of LIMD1 and VHL. This was validated by demethylation experiments using 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine in CACX cell lines. Additional deletion of LIMD1 and VHL in CIN/CACX provided an additional growth advantage during cervical carcinogenesis through reduced expression of genes and associated with poor prognosis of patients. Our data showed that overexpression of HIF-1α and its target gene VEGF in the basal–parabasal layers of normal cervix was due to frequent inactivation of VHL by its promoter methylation. This profile was maintained during different stages of cervical carcinoma with additional methylation/deletion of VHL and LIMD1.

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