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J Exp Biol. 2004 Aug;207(Pt 18):3171-88.

Cellular oxygen sensing need in CNS function: physiological and pathological implications.

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  • 1Karolinska Institute, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Stockholm, Sweden.


Structural and functional integrity of brain function profoundly depends on a regular oxygen and glucose supply. Any disturbance of this supply becomes life threatening and may result in severe loss of brain function. In particular, reductions in oxygen availability (hypoxia) caused by systemic or local blood circulation irregularities cannot be tolerated for longer periods due to an insufficient energy supply to the brain by anaerobic glycolysis. Hypoxia has been implicated in central nervous system pathology in a number of disorders including stroke, head trauma, neoplasia and neurodegenerative disease. Complex cellular oxygen sensing systems have evolved for tight regulation of oxygen homeostasis in the brain. In response to variations in oxygen partial pressure (P(O(2))) these induce adaptive mechanisms to avoid or at least minimize brain damage. A significant advance in our understanding of the hypoxia response stems from the discovery of the hypoxia inducible factors (HIF), which act as key regulators of hypoxia-induced gene expression. Depending on the duration and severity of the oxygen deprivation, cellular oxygen-sensor responses activate a variety of short- and long-term energy saving and cellular protection mechanisms. Hypoxic adaptation encompasses an immediate depolarization block by changing potassium, sodium and chloride ion fluxes across the cellular membrane, a general inhibition of protein synthesis, and HIF-mediated upregulation of gene expression of enzymes or growth factors inducing angiogenesis, anaerobic glycolysis, cell survival or neural stem cell growth. However, sustained and prolonged activation of the HIF pathway may lead to a transition from neuroprotective to cell death responses. This is reflected by the dual features of the HIF system that include both anti- and proapoptotic components. These various responses might be based on a range of oxygen-sensing signal cascades, including an isoform of the neutrophil NADPH oxidase, different electron carrier units of the mitochondrial chain such as a specialized mitochondrial, low P(O(2)) affinity cytochrome c oxidase (aa(3)) and a subfamily of 2-oxoglutarate dependent dioxygenases termed HIF prolyl-hydroxylase (PHD) and HIF asparaginyl hydroxylase, known as factor-inhibiting HIF (FIH-1). Thus specific oxygen-sensing cascades, by means of their different oxygen sensitivities, cell-specific and subcellular localization, may help to tailor various adaptive responses according to differences in tissue oxygen availability.

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