The effect of hypoxia, induced by incubation under low (1%) oxygen tension or by exposure to CoCl(2), on the expression and secretion of inflammation-related adipokines was examined in human adipocytes. Hypoxia led to a rapid and substantial increase (greater than sevenfold by 4 h of exposure to 1% O(2)) in the hypoxia-sensitive transcription factor, HIF-1alpha, in human adipocytes. This was accompanied by a major increase (up to 14-fold) in GLUT1 transporter mRNA level. Hypoxia (1% O(2) or CoCl(2)) led to a reduction (up to threefold over 24 h) in adiponectin and haptoglobin mRNA levels; adiponectin secretion also decreased. No changes were observed in TNFalpha expression. In contrast, hypoxia resulted in substantial increases in FIAF/angiopoietin-like protein 4, IL-6, leptin, MIF, PAI-1 and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA levels. The largest increases were with FIAF (maximum 210-fold), leptin (maximum 29-fold) and VEGF (maximum 23-fold); these were reversed on return to normoxia. The secretion of IL-6, leptin, MIF and VEGF from the adipocytes was also stimulated by exposure to 1% O(2). These results demonstrate that hypoxia induces extensive changes in human adipocytes in the expression and release of inflammation-related adipokines. Hypoxia may underlie the development of the inflammatory response in adipocytes, leading to obesity-associated diseases.