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Hypertension. 2012 Sep;60(3):697-704. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.112.198242. Epub 2012 Jul 9.

Chronic hypoxia during gestation causes epigenetic repression of the estrogen receptor-α gene in ovine uterine arteries via heightened promoter methylation.

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  • 1Center for Perinatal Biology, Division of Pharmacology, Department of Basic Sciences, Loma Linda University, School of Medicine, Loma Linda, CA 92350, USA.


Estrogen receptor-α (ERα) plays a key role in the adaptation of increased uterine blood flow in pregnancy. Chronic hypoxia is a common stress to maternal cardiovascular homeostasis and causes increased risk of preeclampsia. Studies in pregnant sheep demonstrated that hypoxia during gestation downregulated ERα gene expression in uterine arteries. The present study tested the hypothesis that hypoxia causes epigenetic repression of the ERα gene in uterine arteries via heightened promoter methylation. Ovine ERα promoter of 2035 bp spanning from -2000 to +35 of the transcription start site was cloned. No estrogen or hypoxia-inducible factor response elements were found at the promoter. Two transcription factor binding sites, USF(-15) and Sp1(-520), containing CpG dinucleotides were identified, which had significant effects on the promoter activity. The USF element binds transcription factors USF1 and USF2, and the Sp1 element binds Sp1, as well as ERα through Sp1. Deletion of the Sp1 site abrogated 17β-estradiol-induced increase in the promoter activity. In normoxic control sheep, CpG methylation at the Sp1 but not the USF site was significantly decreased in uterine arteries of pregnant as compared with nonpregnant animals. In pregnant sheep exposed to long-term high-altitude hypoxia, CpG methylation at both Sp1 and USF sites in uterine arteries was significantly increased. Methylation inhibited transcription factor binding and the promoter activity. The results provide evidence of hypoxia causing heightened promoter methylation and resultant ERα gene repression in uterine arteries and suggest new insights of molecular mechanisms linking gestational hypoxia to aberrant uteroplacental circulation and increased risk of preeclampsia.

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