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Am J Physiol. 1993 Oct;265(4 Pt 1):L395-402.

Oxygen conformance of cellular respiration in hepatocytes.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Chicago, Illinois 60637.


Cellular respiratory rates are normally determined by metabolic activity, but become rate limited by O2 availability if the cell O2 tension (PO2) falls below a critical value (typically 1-10 Torr). An ability to reduce metabolic activity and energy demand in response to a falling O2 availability might confer an increased resistance to a diminished O2 supply. Isolated rat hepatocytes were studied in primary culture under controlled O2 tensions. Cells were obtained by collagenase digestion and seeded into nutritive media in control and experimental spinner flasks at identical cell densities. Cells subjected to rapid reduction in PO2 (100-->0 Torr over < 40 min) exhibited undiminished O2 uptake until PO2 fell below 10 Torr. By contrast, when cell PO2 was reduced over several hours, significant decreases in O2 uptake became evident at O2 tensions as high as 70 Torr. These decreases were associated with a reduction in ATP concentration and an increase in NAD(P)H, compared with rapidly deoxygenated cells at the same PO2. No loss in cell viability was detected after 24 h at reduced PO2. The decrease in respiratory rate was associated with an increased rate of lactic acid production relative to normoxic controls. Restoration of normoxia was associated with an immediate return of O2 uptake to control levels. These results demonstrate that hepatocytes are capable of reversibly decreasing metabolic activity and O2 demand during sustained moderate reductions in PO2, via a mechanism that appears to involve an inhibition of mitochondrial function other than O2 supply limitation. This response may alter cellular susceptibility to physiological stresses including hypoxia.

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