p53 and p66 proteins compete for hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha stabilization in young and old rat hearts exposed to intermittent hypoxia

Gerontology. 2006;52(1):17-23. doi: 10.1159/000089821.


Background: During development and aging, as well as under hypoxia, many cells can adapt to a stressful environment, while others are damaged and die by apoptosis. In particular, intermittent hypoxia, i.e., hypoxia followed by reoxygenation, determines different responses in young and adult myocardia.

Objective: In the rat myocardium exposed to hypoxia, the roles played by p53 and p66 Shc proteins in matching, in an age-dependent mode, in stabilizing hypoxia-inducible factor-1alpha (HIF-1alpha), and in preventing its biological activity, which usually induces synthesis of rescue proteins against this stress, were investigated.

Methods: Five animals from three groups, each consisting of 10 male Wistar rats, 8 days and 3 and 24 months old, were kept under physiological conditions; 5 young and 5 old rats were exposed to intermittent hypoxic challenges (12 h at 10% O2 followed by 12 h at 21% O2) for 8 days. Pregnant rats were kept for 3 days under hypoxic conditions before delivery, and 5 neonate rats were kept in intermittent hypoxia for 8 days. Left ventricles were excised and processed for TUNEL and Western blotting analyses.

Results: HIF-1alpha stabilization by p53 along with decline in Bcl2, substantial caspase-3 expression, and a large number of apoptotic events make the hypoxic young myocardium the most damaged when compared to the neonatal one, in which HIF-1alpha is not stabilized. Moreover, high expression and activation of p66 in hypoxic young and in normoxic old myocardia suggests a pathological increase of the response to oxidative stress in the former and a physiological progressive increase in the latter.

Conclusions: The different responses to hypoxic challenge during life show that the young seem the most reactive and damaged, as is well documented by p53-mediated HIF-1alpha stabilization. The neonate, not showing any modification in terms of HIF-1alpha expression and activation, seems 'adapted' to such an environment, since it was maintained in hypoxia 3 days before and 8 days after birth. In the old, increasing p66 expression and tyrosine phosphorylation, probably exerting a slight HIF-1alpha stabilization in the two experimental conditions, provide evidence of longevity and oxidative stress resistance, as suggested by the low number of apoptotic events seen upon hypoxic challenge, and this fact could be due to impairment of oxygen-sensing mechanisms or to adaptation of the cells to apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism*
  • Age Factors
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Heart Ventricles
  • Hypoxia
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit / biosynthesis
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Shc Signaling Adaptor Proteins
  • Src Homology 2 Domain-Containing, Transforming Protein 1
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / biosynthesis
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Shc Signaling Adaptor Proteins
  • Shc1 protein, rat
  • Src Homology 2 Domain-Containing, Transforming Protein 1
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53