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Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2011 Feb;300(2):C226-31. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00430.2010. Epub 2010 Oct 27.

Hypoxia. 1. Intracellular sensors for oxygen and oxidative stress: novel therapeutic targets.

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United Centers for Advanced Research and Translational Medicine, Tohoku University School of Medicine, 2-1 Seiryo-Machi, Aoba-ku, Sendai, 980-8575, Japan.


A variety of human disorders, e.g., ischemic heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eventually share the deleterious consequences of a common, hypoxic and oxidative stress pathway. In this review, we utilize recent information on the cellular defense mechanisms against hypoxia and oxidative stress with the hope to propose new therapeutic tools. The hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is a key player as it activates a broad range of genes protecting cells against hypoxia. Its level is determined by its degradation rate by intracellular oxygen sensors prolyl hydroxylases (PHDs). There are three different PHD isoforms (PHD1-3). Small molecule PHD inhibitors improve hypoxic injury in experimental animals but, unfortunately, may induce adverse effects associated with PHD2 inhibition, e.g., angiogenesis. As yet, no inhibitor specific for a distinct PHD isoform is currently available. Still, the specific disruption of the PHD1 gene is known to induce hypoxic tolerance, without angiogenesis and erythrocytosis, by reprogramming basal oxygen metabolism with an attendant decreased oxidative stress in hypoxic mitochondria. A specific PHD1 inhibitor might therefore offer a novel therapy against hypoxia. The nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) regulates the basal and inducible expression of numerous antioxidant stress genes. Disruption of its gene exacerbates oxidative tissue injury. Nrf2 activity is modulated by Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), an intracellular sensor for oxidative stress. Inhibitors of Keap 1 may prove therapeutic against oxidative tissue injury.

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