Biochimica et biophysica acta

Spontaneously hyperactive MEK-Erk pathway mediates paradoxical facilitation of cell proliferation in mild hypoxia.

PMID 25497211


Oxygen is important for common eukaryotic cells to generate ATP. Pathophysiological conditions such as ischemic diseases cause tissue hypoxia. In addition, oxygen availability in deep tissues is supposed to be far lower than surrounding atmosphere even in healthy animals, and the oxygen partial pressures in most normal tissues are estimated to be around 40-50mmHg, so-called mild hypoxia. Recent studies have demonstrated that mild hypoxia has distinct effects on living cells from severe hypoxia. For instance, mild hypoxia was reported to promote cell reprogramming. Although severe hypoxia is known to inhibit cell proliferation, mild hypoxia has been paradoxically demonstrated to increase cell proliferation. However, it has not been clarified by which molecular mechanisms mild hypoxia evokes the discontinuous increment of cell proliferation. We established experimental conditions showing the opposite influences of mild and severe hypoxia on cell proliferation using undifferentiated Caco2 human colon carcinoma cells in order to clarify the underlying molecular mechanism. The basal activity of Erk, which is a typical mediator of mitogenic signals, is spontaneously increased specifically in cells exposed to mild hypoxia, and inhibition of MEK, an upstream kinase of the Erk, completely inhibited the mild hypoxia-induced enhancement of cell proliferation. Spontaneous hyperactivation of the MEK-Erk pathway by mild hypoxia should be the plausible molecular mechanism of the paradoxical promotion of cell proliferation. Our findings will provide clues to the molecular basis of mild hypoxia-evoked phenomena such as cell reprogramming.

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