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Oxygen-dependent and tissue-specific regulation of erythropoietin gene expression.

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  • 1Institut für Physiologie, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Hufelandstr. 55, D-45147 Essen, Germany.


Hypoxia-inducible expression of the gene encoding for the glycoprotein hormone erythropoietin (EPO) is the paradigm of oxygen-regulated gene expression. EPO is the main regulator of red blood cell production and more than 100 years of research on the regulation of EPO production have led to the identification of a widespread cellular oxygen sensing mechanism. Central to this signaling cascade is the transcription factor complex hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1). Meanwhile, it is known that HIF-1 controls more than 50 oxygen-dependent genes and is now recognized as the main regulator of oxygen homoeostasis in the body. In addition to hypoxic induction, expression of the EPO gene is tightly regulated in a tissue-specific manner. During ontogeny, production of EPO required for erythropoiesis is switched from the fetal liver to the kidneys. Here EPO is mainly synthesized in adulthood. Production of EPO has also been found in organs where it has nonerythropoietic functions: EPO is important for development of the brain and is neuroprotective, whereas it stimulates angiogenesis in the reproductive tract and possibly in other organs. Understanding oxygen and tissue-specific regulation of EPO production is of high relevance for physiology. Moreover, this knowledge might be useful for new therapies to treat human diseases.

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