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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2011 Jul 29;52(8):5872-80. doi: 10.1167/iovs.11-7204.

Normoxic activation of hypoxia-inducible factors in photoreceptors provides transient protection against light-induced retinal degeneration.

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Lab for Retinal Cell Biology, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.



Hypoxic preconditioning activates hypoxia-inducible transcription factors (HIFs) in the retina and protects photoreceptors from light-induced retinal degeneration. The authors tested whether photoreceptor-specific activation of HIFs in normoxia is sufficient for protection.


Rod-specific Vhl knockdown mice were generated using the Cre-lox system with the rod opsin promoter controlling expression of CRE recombinase to stabilize HIF transcription factors in normoxic rods. Cell death was induced by light exposure and quantified by ELISA. Rhodopsin was quantified by spectrophotometry. Gene expression was analyzed by real-time PCR, and levels of proteins were determined by Western blotting. Morphology was investigated by light microscopy and retinal function tested by ERG.


The rod-specific Vhl knockdown stabilized HIF-α proteins and induced expression of HIF target genes in retinas of 10-week-old mice under normoxic conditions. Retinal morphology and function were normal. At 36 hours after exposure to excessive light, Vhl knockdowns showed significantly less photoreceptor cell death than did wild-type controls. Ten days after light exposure, however, photoreceptor degeneration in Vhl knockdowns was similar to that of control animals. Vhl knockdowns expressed Fgf2 at higher basal levels before light exposure. After light exposure, however, expression of Fgf2 was not significantly different from that of wild-type controls.


Artificial activation of HIF transcription factors in normoxic photoreceptors results in an increased basal expression of Fgf2 that may contribute to a transient protection of rods against light damage. Full photoreceptor protection may require a hypoxia-like response in additional retinal cell types and/or the differential regulation of additional mechanisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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