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Curr Biol. 2010 Dec 7;20(23):2131-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.10.057. Epub 2010 Nov 18.

Inhibition of respiration extends C. elegans life span via reactive oxygen species that increase HIF-1 activity.

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Division of Molecular and Life Science, School of Interdisciplinary Bioscience and Bioengineering, and World Class University Information Technology Convergence Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology, Pohang, Kyungbuk 790-784, South Korea.


A mild inhibition of mitochondrial respiration extends the life span of many organisms, including yeast, worms, flies, and mice, but the underlying mechanism is unknown. One environmental condition that reduces rates of respiration is hypoxia (low oxygen). Thus, it is possible that mechanisms that sense oxygen play a role in the longevity response to reduced respiration. The hypoxia-inducible factor HIF-1 is a highly conserved transcription factor that activates genes that promote survival during hypoxia. In this study, we show that inhibition of respiration in C. elegans can promote longevity by activating HIF-1. Through genome-wide screening, we found that RNA interference (RNAi) knockdown of many genes encoding respiratory-chain components induced hif-1-dependent transcription. Moreover, HIF-1 was required for the extended life spans of clk-1 and isp-1 mutants, which have reduced rates of respiration. Inhibiting respiration appears to activate HIF-1 by elevating the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS). We found that ROS are increased in respiration mutants and that mild increases in ROS can stimulate HIF-1 to activate gene expression and promote longevity. In this way, HIF-1 appears to link respiratory stress in the mitochondria to a nuclear transcriptional response that promotes longevity.

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