Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 regulates vascular endothelial growth factor expression in human pancreatic cancer

Pancreas. 2003 Jan;26(1):56-64. doi: 10.1097/00006676-200301000-00010.


Introduction: The microenvironment of low oxygen that is present in human pancreatic cancer in vivo may actively influence tumor growth as well as neovascularization.

Aims: To determine whether hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) is specifically activated by hypoxia in vitro in pancreatic cancer cells and correlated these findings with tumor specimens.

Methodology: Hypoxic regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) was studied by northern blot analysis and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays and western blot analysis were used to demonstrate hypoxic activation of HIF-1. The relationship between HIF-1 and VEGF in human pancreatic cancer specimens was studied by immunohistochemical analysis, northern blot analysis, and in situ hybridization.

Results: Studies in vivo of human pancreatic cancer tissue showed co-localization of VEGF mRNA, which is produced in ductal cancer cells, and HIF-1alpha protein, which was detectable in cell nuclei of the same cells. HIF-1alpha mRNA expression was dramatically upregulated (approximately 13-fold) in these specimens as well. In vitro, all pancreatic cancer cell lines increased VEGF production when exposed to low oxygen levels, by highly specific activation of HIF-1 DNA binding activity to the VEGF promoter. Cancer cell lines with high constitutive levels of HIF-1alpha protein were found to produce higher basal levels of VEGF.

Conclusion: We conclude that HIF-1 is the regulatory link between tumor hypoxia and VEGF production in pancreatic cancer, thus establishing a biochemical pathway between tumor hypoxia and neoangiogenesis in this highly aggressive neoplasm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Adenocarcinoma / metabolism
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Endothelial Growth Factors / biosynthesis
  • Endothelial Growth Factors / genetics*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Genistein / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics*
  • Lymphokines / biosynthesis
  • Lymphokines / genetics*
  • Nuclear Proteins / physiology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Up-Regulation
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • HIF1A protein, human
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Lymphokines
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Transcription Factors
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Genistein