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Biochem J. 2007 Jul 1;405(1):1-9.

Oxygen-dependent regulation of mitochondrial respiration by hypoxia-inducible factor 1.

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  • 1Vascular Biology Program, Institute for Cell Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


The survival of metazoan organisms is dependent upon the utilization of O2 as a substrate for COX (cytochrome c oxidase), which constitutes Complex IV of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Premature transfer of electrons, either at Complex I or at Complex III, results in the increased generation of ROS (reactive oxygen species). Recent studies have identified two critical adaptations that may function to prevent excessive ROS production in hypoxic cells. First, expression of PDK1 [PDH (pyruvate dehydrogenase) kinase 1] is induced. PDK1 phosphorylates and inactivates PDH, the mitochondrial enzyme that converts pyruvate into acetyl-CoA. In combination with the hypoxia-induced expression of LDHA (lactate dehydrogenase A), which converts pyruvate into lactate, PDK1 reduces the delivery of acetyl-CoA to the tricarboxylic acid cycle, thus reducing the levels of NADH and FADH2 delivered to the electron-transport chain. Secondly, the subunit composition of COX is altered in hypoxic cells by increased expression of the COX4-2 subunit, which optimizes COX activity under hypoxic conditions, and increased degradation of the COX4-1 subunit, which optimizes COX activity under aerobic conditions. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 controls the metabolic adaptation of mammalian cells to hypoxia by activating transcription of the genes encoding PDK1, LDHA, COX4-2 and LON, a mitochondrial protease that is required for the degradation of COX4-1. COX subunit switching occurs in yeast, but by a completely different regulatory mechanism, suggesting that selection for O2-dependent homoeostatic regulation of mitochondrial respiration is ancient and likely to be shared by all eukaryotic organisms.

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