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Mol Cell Biol. 2002 Nov;22(21):7405-16.

Regulation of protein synthesis by hypoxia via activation of the endoplasmic reticulum kinase PERK and phosphorylation of the translation initiation factor eIF2alpha.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157, USA.


Hypoxia profoundly influences tumor development and response to therapy. While progress has been made in identifying individual gene products whose synthesis is altered under hypoxia, little is known about the mechanism by which hypoxia induces a global downregulation of protein synthesis. A critical step in the regulation of protein synthesis in response to stress is the phosphorylation of translation initiation factor eIF2alpha on Ser51, which leads to inhibition of new protein synthesis. Here we report that exposure of human diploid fibroblasts and transformed cells to hypoxia led to phosphorylation of eIF2alpha, a modification that was readily reversed upon reoxygenation. Expression of a transdominant, nonphosphorylatable mutant allele of eIF2alpha attenuated the repression of protein synthesis under hypoxia. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-resident eIF2alpha kinase PERK was hyperphosphorylated upon hypoxic stress, and overexpression of wild-type PERK increased the levels of hypoxia-induced phosphorylation of eIF2alpha. Cells stably expressing a dominant-negative PERK allele and mouse embryonic fibroblasts with a homozygous deletion of PERK exhibited attenuated phosphorylation of eIF2alpha and reduced inhibition of protein synthesis in response to hypoxia. PERK(-/-) mouse embryo fibroblasts failed to phosphorylate eIF2alpha and exhibited lower survival after prolonged exposure to hypoxia than did wild-type fibroblasts. These results indicate that adaptation of cells to hypoxic stress requires activation of PERK and phosphorylation of eIF2alpha and suggest that the mechanism of hypoxia-induced translational attenuation may be linked to ER stress and the unfolded-protein response.

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