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J Biol Chem. 1997 Sep 19;272(38):23659-67.

Differential transcriptional regulation of the two vascular endothelial growth factor receptor genes. Flt-1, but not Flk-1/KDR, is up-regulated by hypoxia.

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  • 1Department of Cardiovascular Research, Genentech, Inc., South San Francisco, California 94080, USA.


Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its two endothelial cell-specific receptor tyrosine kinases, Flk-1/KDR and Flt-1, play a key role in physiological and pathological angiogenesis. Hypoxia has been shown to be a major mechanism for up-regulation of VEGF and its receptors in vivo. When we exposed human umbilical vein endothelial cells to hypoxic conditions in vitro, we observed increased levels of Flt-1 expression. In contrast, Flk-1/KDR mRNA levels were unchanged or slightly repressed. These findings suggest a differential transcriptional regulation of the two receptors by hypoxia. To identify regulatory elements involved in the hypoxic response, promoter regions of the mouse Flt-1 and Flk-1/KDR genes were isolated and tested in conjunction with luciferase reporter gene. In transient transfection assays, hypoxia led to strong transcriptional activation of the Flt-1 promoter, whereas Flk-1/KDR transcription was essentially unchanged. Promoter deletion analysis demonstrated a 430-bp region of the Flt-1 promoter to be required for transcriptional activation in response to hypoxia. This region includes a heptamer sequence matching the hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF) consensus binding site previously found in other hypoxia-inducible genes such as the VEGF gene and erythropoietin gene. We further narrowed down the element mediating the hypoxia response to a 40-base pair sequence including the putative HIF binding site. We show that this element acts like an enhancer, since it activated transcription irrespective of its location or orientation in the construct. Furthermore, mutations within the putative HIF consensus binding site lead to impaired transcriptional activation by hypoxia. These findings indicate that, unlike the KDR/Flk-1 gene, the Flt-1 receptor gene is directly up-regulated by hypoxia via a hypoxia-inducible enhancer element located at positions -976 to -937 of the Flt-1 promoter.

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