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J Biol Chem. 2003 May 2;278(18):15911-6. Epub 2003 Feb 26.

Cobalt inhibits the interaction between hypoxia-inducible factor-alpha and von Hippel-Lindau protein by direct binding to hypoxia-inducible factor-alpha.

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Genome Research Institute, University of Cincinnati, 231 Albert Sabin Way, Cincinnati, OH 45267-0505, USA.


The hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) activates the expression of genes that contain a hypoxia response element. The alpha-subunits of the HIF transcription factors are degraded by proteasomal pathways during normoxia but are stabilized under hypoxic conditions. The von Hippel-Lindau protein (pVHL) mediates the ubiquitination and rapid degradation of HIF-alpha (including HIF-1alpha and HIF-2alpha). Post-translational hydroxylation of a proline residue in the oxygen-dependent degradation (ODD) domain of HIF-alpha is required for the interaction between HIF and VHL. It has previously been established that cobalt mimics hypoxia and causes accumulation of HIF-1alpha and HIF-2alpha. However, little is known about the mechanism by which this occurs. In an earlier study, we demonstrated that cobalt binds directly to the ODD domain of HIF-2alpha. Here we provide the first evidence that cobalt inhibits pVHL binding to HIF-alpha even when HIF-alpha is hydroxylated. Deletion of 17 amino acids within the ODD domain of HIF-2alpha that are required for pVHL binding prevented the binding of cobalt and stabilized HIF-2alpha during normoxia. These findings show that cobalt mimics hypoxia, at least in part, by occupying the VHL-binding domain of HIF-alpha and thereby preventing the degradation of HIF-alpha.

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