Cellular adaptation to hypoxia through hypoxia inducible factors and beyond

Pearl Lee*, Navdeep S. Chandel, M. Celeste Simon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Molecular oxygen (O2) sustains intracellular bioenergetics and is consumed by numerous biochemical reactions, making it essential for most species on Earth. Accordingly, decreased oxygen concentration (hypoxia) is a major stressor that generally subverts life of aerobic species and is a prominent feature of pathological states encountered in bacterial infection, inflammation, wounds, cardiovascular defects and cancer. Therefore, key adaptive mechanisms to cope with hypoxia have evolved in mammals. Systemically, these adaptations include increased ventilation, cardiac output, blood vessel growth and circulating red blood cell numbers. On a cellular level, ATP-consuming reactions are suppressed, and metabolism is altered until oxygen homeostasis is restored. A critical question is how mammalian cells sense oxygen levels to coordinate diverse biological outputs during hypoxia. The best-studied mechanism of response to hypoxia involves hypoxia inducible factors (HIFs), which are stabilized by low oxygen availability and control the expression of a multitude of genes, including those involved in cell survival, angiogenesis, glycolysis and invasion/metastasis. Importantly, changes in oxygen can also be sensed via other stress pathways as well as changes in metabolite levels and the generation of reactive oxygen species by mitochondria. Collectively, this leads to cellular adaptations of protein synthesis, energy metabolism, mitochondrial respiration, lipid and carbon metabolism as well as nutrient acquisition. These mechanisms are integral inputs into fine-tuning the responses to hypoxic stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-283
Number of pages16
JournalNature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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