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EMBO J. 2003 Feb 3;22(3):580-7.

Nitric oxide-induced suspended animation promotes survival during hypoxia.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0448, USA.


Oxygen plays a key role in energy metabolism. However, there are organisms that survive severe shortfalls in oxygen. Drosophila embryos rapidly arrest development upon severe hypoxia and recover upon restoration of oxygen, even days later. Stabilization of the normally unstable engrailed RNA and protein preserved the localized striped pattern of this embryonic patterning gene during 3 days in hypoxia. Severe hypoxia blocked expression of a heat-shock-inducible lacZ transgene. Cyanide, a metabolic poison, did not immediately block gene expression or turnover, arguing against a passive response to energy limitation. In contrast, nitric oxide, a putative hypoxia signal, induced a reversible arrest of development, gene expression and turnover. Reciprocally, a nitric oxide scavenger allowed continued gene expression and turnover during hypoxia, but it reduced hypoxia tolerance. We suggest that hypoxia-induced stasis preserves the status quo of embryonic processes and promotes survival. Our data implicate nitric oxide as a mediator of this response and provide a system in which to investigate its action.

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