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BMC Cancer. 2008 Nov 4;8:320. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-8-320.

Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha expression increases during colorectal carcinogenesis and tumor progression.

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Institute of Pathology, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany.



Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF-1alpha) is involved in processes promoting carcinogenesis of many tumors. However, its role in the development of colorectal cancer is unknown. To investigate the significance of HIF-1alpha during colorectal carcinogenesis and progression we examined its expression in precursor lesions constituting the conventional and serrated pathways, as well as in non-metastatic and metastatic adenocarcinomas.


Immunohistochemistry and Western blot is used to analyse HIF-1alpha expression in normal colonic mucosa, hyperplastic polyps (HPP), sessile serrated adenomas (SSA), low-grade (TA-LGD) and high-grade (TA-HGD) traditional adenomas as well as in non-metastatic and metastatic colorectal adenocarcinomas. Eight colorectal carcinoma cell lines are tested for their HIF-1alpha inducibility after lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation using western blot and immunocytochemistry.


In normal mucosa, HPP and TA-LGD HIF-1alpha was not expressed. In contast, perinuclear protein accumulation and nuclear expression of HIF-1alpha were shown in half of the examined SSA and TA-HGD. In all investigated colorectal carcinomas a significant nuclear HIF-1alpha overexpression compared to the premalignant lesions was observed but a significant correlation with the metastatic status was not found. Nuclear HIF-1alpha expression was strongly accumulated in perinecrotic regions. In these cases HIF-1alpha activation was seen in viable cohesive tumor epithelia surrounding necrosis and in dissociated tumor cells, which subsequently die. Enhanced distribution of HIF-1alpha was also seen in periinflammatory regions. In additional in vitro studies, treatment of diverse colorectal carcinoma cell lines with the potent pro-inflammatory factor lipopolysaccharide (LPS) led to HIF-1alpha expression and nuclear translocation.


We conclude that HIF-1alpha expression occurs in early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis and achieves a maximum in the invasive stage independent of the metastatic status. Perinecrotic activation of HIF-1alpha in invasive tumors underlines a dual role of HIF-1alpha by regulating both pro-survival and pro-death processes. HIF-1alpha up-regulation in response to LPS-mediated stimulation and periinflammatory expression in invasive carcinomas suggest its involvement in inflammatory events. These patterns of HIF-1alpha inducibility could contribute indirectly to the acquisition of a metastatic phenotype.

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