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PLoS Pathog. 2012;8(7):e1002798. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002798. Epub 2012 Jul 5.

EGL-9 controls C. elegans host defense specificity through prolyl hydroxylation-dependent and -independent HIF-1 pathways.

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Program of Developmental Immunology, Department of Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.


Understanding host defense against microbes is key to developing new and more effective therapies for infection and inflammatory disease. However, how animals integrate multiple environmental signals and discriminate between different pathogens to mount specific and tailored responses remains poorly understood. Using the genetically tractable model host Caenorhabditis elegans and pathogenic bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, we describe an important role for hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) in defining the specificity of the host response in the intestine. We demonstrate that loss of egl-9, a negative regulator of HIF, confers HIF-dependent enhanced susceptibility to S. aureus while increasing resistance to Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In our attempt to understand how HIF could have these apparently dichotomous roles in host defense, we find that distinct pathways separately regulate two opposing functions of HIF: the canonical pathway is important for blocking expression of a set of HIF-induced defense genes, whereas a less well understood noncanonical pathway appears to be important for allowing the expression of another distinct set of HIF-repressed defense genes. Thus, HIF can function either as a gene-specific inducer or repressor of host defense, providing a molecular mechanism by which HIF can have apparently opposing roles in defense and inflammation. Together, our observations show that HIF can set the balance between alternative pathogen-specific host responses, potentially acting as an evolutionarily conserved specificity switch in the host innate immune response.

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