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J Mol Med (Berl). 2007 Dec;85(12):1325-30. Epub 2007 Nov 20.

Hypoxia and the HIF system in kidney disease.

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Division of Nephrology and Endocrinology, University of Tokyo School of Medicine, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan,


The kidney is sensitive to changes in oxygen delivery. This sensitivity has the merit of facilitating the kidneys in their adjustment of erythropoietin (EPO) production to changes in oxygen supply. The main determinant of EPO synthesis is the transcriptional activity of its gene in kidneys, which is related to local oxygen tensions. Regulation of EPO production is mediated by hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF). When local oxygen tension decreases, accumulated HIF binds to the key sequence of the EPO gene, the hypoxia-responsive element (HRE), and activates transcription of EPO. HIF consists of a constitutive beta-subunit and one of alternative oxygen-regulated HIF alpha-subunits (HIF-1alpha, HIF-2alpha, and HIF-3alpha), and HIF-2alpha is responsible for erythropoietin production. However, the high sensitivity to changes in oxygen tension also makes the kidney prone to hypoxic injury. Severe energy depletion and subsequent activation of a number of critical alterations in metabolism occurs under hypoxic conditions. Hypoxia is also a profibrogenic stimulus. In addition to ischemic acute renal failure, hypoxia can also play a crucial role in the development of nephrotoxic acute kidney injury, radiocontrast nephropathy, and acute glomerulonephritis. Furthermore, accumulating evidence suggests that chronic hypoxia is a final common pathway to end-stage kidney failure in chronic kidney disease. Given that renal hypoxia has pivotal roles on the development and progression of both acute and chronic kidney disease, hypoxia can be a valid therapeutic target for chronic kidney disease. Activation of HIF leads to expression of a variety of adaptive genes in a coordinated manner. Studies utilizing HIF-stimulating agents proved efficacy in various kidney disease models, suggesting that HIF activation is an ideal target of future therapeutic approaches.

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