Anoxia is necessary for tumor cell toxicity caused by a low-oxygen environment.
Papandreou I., Krishna C., Kaper F., Cai D., Giaccia AJ., Denko NC.
Cells exposed to oxygen deprivation in vitro have been shown to reduce proliferation and/or engage in programmed cell death. There is considerable controversy in the literature as to the role of hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) and HIF-1 target genes in initiating these responses. We therefore examined the oxygen dependence and the role of the hypoxia-responsive transcription factor HIF-1 in making the cellular death decision. Oxygen concentrations as low as 0.5% did not alter the growth of HIF-1-proficient or HIF-1-deficient murine fibroblasts, or human tumor cells, despite the appropriate induction of HIF-1 target genes. Severe hypoxia (<0.01% oxygen) did induced apoptosis, resulting in decreased colony formation, chromatin condensation, DNA fragmentation, and caspase activation but also independent of HIF1alpha status. Transcriptional induction of HIF-1-dependent genes putatively involved in cell death like BNip3 and BNip3L was therefore disassociated from hypoxia-dependent toxicity. Likewise, forced overexpression of a nondegradable form of HIF-1alpha in several human tumor cell lines was not sufficient to induce apoptosis under normoxic conditions. Taken together, these findings indicate that additional molecular events are triggered by anoxia in a HIF-1-independent manner, and these changes are necessary for cell death observed in low-oxygen environments.