Send to

Choose Destination
Exp Eye Res. 2006 Sep;83(3):473-83. Epub 2006 Jun 5.

Oxygen-dependent diseases in the retina: role of hypoxia-inducible factors.

Author information

Laboratory of Animal Physiology, Department of Biology, Center of Excellence in Evolutionary Genetics and Physiology, 20014 University of Turku, Finland.


The function of the retina is sensitive to oxygen tension. Any change in the perfusion pressure of the eye affects the retina although the eye is able to autoregulate its hemodynamics. Systemic hypoxemia (lung or heart disease) or a vascular disease in the retina can cause retinal hypoxia. All the hypoxia-dependent events in cells appear to share a common denominator: hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), which is a heterodimeric transcription factor, a protein. HIF comprises a labile alpha subunit (1-3), which is regulated, and a stable beta subunit, which is constitutively expressed. Both are helix-loop-helix factors and belong to the PAS-domain family of transcription factors. Oxygen plays the key role in stabilizing HIF-1alpha and its function. When the oxygen tension is normal, HIF-1alpha is rapidly oxidized by hydroxylase enzymes, but when cells become hypoxic, HIF-1alpha escapes the degradation and starts to accumulate, triggering the activation of a large number of genes, like vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and erythropoietin. HIF-1alpha has been shown to have, either clinically or experimentally, a mediating or contributing role in several oxygen-dependent retinal diseases such as von Hippel-Lindau, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, retinopathy of prematurity and glaucoma. In retinitis pigmentosa and high-altitude retinopathy, however, the evidence is still indirect. There are three different strategies available for treating retinal diseases, which have all shown promising results: retinal cell transplantation or replacement, gene replacement, and pharmacological intervention. Specifically, recent results show that the HIF pathway can be used as a therapeutic target, although there is still a long way to go from bench to clinic. HIF can be stabilized by inhibiting prolyl hydroxylase or by blocking the VHL:HIF-alpha complex if angiogenesis is the goal, as in retinitis pigmentosa. On the other hand, the downregulation of HIF has a pivotal role if we are to inhibit neovascularization, as in proliferative diabetic retinopathy. To date, several small-molecule inhibitors of HIF have been developed and are entering clinical trials. HIF is a remarkable example of a single transcription factor that can be regarded as a "master switch" regulating all the oxygen-dependent retinal diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center