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Open Access Research article

Hypoxia-dependent sequestration of an oxygen sensor by a widespread structural motif can shape the hypoxic response - a predictive kinetic model

Bernhard Schmierer12, Béla Novák12* and Christopher J Schofield13*

Author Affiliations

1 Oxford Centre for Integrative Systems Biology (OCISB), University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QU, UK

2 Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QU, UK

3 Chemistry Research Laboratory, University of Oxford, 12 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TA, UK

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BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:139  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-139

Published: 18 October 2010

Abstract

Background

The activity of the heterodimeric transcription factor hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) is regulated by the post-translational, oxygen-dependent hydroxylation of its α-subunit by members of the prolyl hydroxylase domain (PHD or EGLN)-family and by factor inhibiting HIF (FIH). PHD-dependent hydroxylation targets HIFα for rapid proteasomal degradation; FIH-catalysed asparaginyl-hydroxylation of the C-terminal transactivation domain (CAD) of HIFα suppresses the CAD-dependent subset of the extensive transcriptional responses induced by HIF. FIH can also hydroxylate ankyrin-repeat domain (ARD) proteins, a large group of proteins which are functionally unrelated but share common structural features. Competition by ARD proteins for FIH is hypothesised to affect FIH activity towards HIFα; however the extent of this competition and its effect on the HIF-dependent hypoxic response are unknown.

Results

To analyse if and in which way the FIH/ARD protein interaction affects HIF-activity, we created a rate equation model. Our model predicts that an oxygen-regulated sequestration of FIH by ARD proteins significantly shapes the input/output characteristics of the HIF system. The FIH/ARD protein interaction is predicted to create an oxygen threshold for HIFα CAD-hydroxylation and to significantly sharpen the signal/response curves, which not only focuses HIFα CAD-hydroxylation into a defined range of oxygen tensions, but also makes the response ultrasensitive to varying oxygen tensions. Our model further suggests that the hydroxylation status of the ARD protein pool can encode the strength and the duration of a hypoxic episode, which may allow cells to memorise these features for a certain time period after reoxygenation.

Conclusions

The FIH/ARD protein interaction has the potential to contribute to oxygen-range finding, can sensitise the response to changes in oxygen levels, and can provide a memory of the strength and the duration of a hypoxic episode. These emergent properties are predicted to significantly shape the characteristics of HIF activity in animal cells. We argue that the FIH/ARD interaction should be taken into account in studies of the effect of pharmacological inhibition of the HIF-hydroxylases and propose that the interaction of a signalling sensor with a large group of proteins might be a general mechanism for the regulation of signalling pathways.