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Br J Cancer. 2011 Mar 29;104(7):1151-9. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2011.73. Epub 2011 Mar 8.

Factor inhibiting HIF (FIH-1) promotes renal cancer cell survival by protecting cells from HIF-1α-mediated apoptosis.

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  • 1Centre for Cell Signalling and Molecular Genetics, Rayne Institute, University College London, London, WC1E 6JF, UK.



Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (CCRCC) is the commonest form of kidney cancer. Up to 91% have biallelic inactivation of VHL, resulting in stabilisation of HIF-α subunits. Factor inhibiting HIF-1 is an enzyme that hydroxylates HIF-α subunits and prevents recruitment of the co-activator CBP/P300. An important question is whether FIH-1 controls HIF activity in CCRCC.


Human VHL defective CCRCC lines RCC10, RCC4 and 786-O were used to determine the role of FIH-1 in modulating HIF activity, using small interfering RNA knockdown, retroviral gene expression, quantitative RT-PCR, western blot analysis, Annexin V and propidium iodide labelling.


Although it was previously suggested that FIH-1 is suppressed in CCRCC, we found that FIH-1 mRNA and protein are actually present at similar levels in CCRCC and normal kidney. The FIH-1 inhibition or knockdown in the VHL defective CCRCC lines RCC10 and RCC4 (which express both HIF-1α and HIF-2α) resulted in increased expression of HIF target genes. In the 786-O CCRCC cell line, which expresses only HIF-2α, FIH-1 attenuation showed no significant effect on expression of these genes; introduction of HIF-1α resulted in sensitivity of HIF targets to FIH-1 knockdown. In RCC4 and RCC10, knockdown of FIH-1 increased apoptosis. Suppressing HIF-1α expression in RCC10 prevented FIH-1 knockdown from increasing apoptosis.


Our results support a unifying model in which HIF-1α has a tumour suppressor action in CCRCC, held in check by FIH-1. Inhibiting FIH-1 in CCRCC could be used to bias the HIF response towards HIF-1α and decrease tumour cell viability.

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