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J Biol Chem. 2012 Aug 17;287(34):29003-20. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.373365. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

Functional importance of Dicer protein in the adaptive cellular response to hypoxia.

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Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1W8, Canada.


The processes by which cells sense and respond to ambient oxygen concentration are fundamental to cell survival and function, and they commonly target gene regulatory events. To date, however, little is known about the link between the microRNA pathway and hypoxia signaling. Here, we show in vitro and in vivo that chronic hypoxia impairs Dicer (DICER1) expression and activity, resulting in global consequences on microRNA biogenesis. We show that von Hippel-Lindau-dependent down-regulation of Dicer is key to the expression and function of hypoxia-inducible factor α (HIF-α) subunits. Specifically, we show that EPAS1/HIF-2α is regulated by the Dicer-dependent microRNA miR-185, which is down-regulated by hypoxia. Full expression of hypoxia-responsive/HIF target genes in chronic hypoxia (e.g. VEGFA, FLT1/VEGFR1, KDR/VEGFR2, BNIP3L, and SLC2A1/GLUT1), the function of which is to regulate various adaptive responses to compromised oxygen availability, is also dependent on hypoxia-mediated down-regulation of Dicer function and changes in post-transcriptional gene regulation. Therefore, functional deficiency of Dicer in chronic hypoxia is relevant to both HIF-α isoforms and hypoxia-responsive/HIF target genes, especially in the vascular endothelium. These findings have relevance to emerging therapies given that we show that the efficacy of RNA interference under chronic hypoxia, but not normal oxygen availability, is Dicer-dependent. Collectively, these findings show that the down-regulation of Dicer under chronic hypoxia is an adaptive mechanism that serves to maintain the cellular hypoxic response through HIF-α- and microRNA-dependent mechanisms, thereby providing an essential mechanistic insight into the oxygen-dependent microRNA regulatory pathway.

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