The HIF/VHL pathway: from oxygen sensing to innate immunity

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2008 Mar;38(3):251-5. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2007-0331TR. Epub 2007 Oct 11.


In aerobic organisms, all cells have the capacity to respond to changes in oxygenation through the stabilization and transcriptional activation of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF). At sites of tissue injury, oxygen delivery to individual cells may be compromised or insufficient due to increased metabolic demands, and it is to these areas that immune cells, including neutrophils, must migrate and operate effectively. In addition to the role of HIF to regulate the adaptive metabolic and survival responses of these cells at sites of reduced oxygenation, more complex interactions between HIF and pro-inflammatory pathways are now emerging. The mechanisms by which HIF modulates pro-inflammatory myeloid cell lifespan and function remain to be fully characterized, but roles for the oxygen-sensing hydroxylase enzymes through direct hydroxylation of NF-kappaB and its repressor protein IkappaBalpha have been suggested. The ability of HIF to modulate cellular glucose utilization is also thought to be important, with the maintenance of intracellular ATP pools linked to enhanced myeloid cell aggregation, motility, invasiveness, and bacterial killing. Additional non-hypoxia-mediated routes to up-regulate HIF are also now recognized. In this review we describe the role of HIF in the oxygen-sensing response, and the oxygen-dependent and -independent regulation of myeloid cell function and longevity. Understanding these processes and the role they play in regulating innate immune responses within inflamed sites, both hypoxic and normoxic, may offer new opportunities for therapeutic intervention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation
  • Hypoxia
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 / metabolism*
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Models, Biological
  • Myeloid Cells / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Protein / metabolism*


  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • NF-kappa B
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Tumor Suppressor Protein
  • VHL protein, human
  • Oxygen