Cellular oxygen sensing, signalling and how to survive translational arrest in hypoxia

Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2009 Feb;195(2):205-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.2008.01894.x. Epub 2008 Sep 1.


Hypoxia is a consequence of inadequate oxygen availability. At the cellular level, lowered oxygen concentration activates signal cascades including numerous receptors, ion channels, second messengers, as well as several protein kinases and phosphatases. This, in turn, activates trans-factors like transcription factors, RNA-binding proteins and miRNAs, mediating an alteration in gene expression control. Each cell type has its unique constellation of oxygen sensors, couplers and effectors that determine the activation and predominance of several independent hypoxia-sensitive pathways. Hence, altered gene expression patterns in hypoxia result from a complex regulatory network with multiple divergences and convergences. Although hundreds of genes are activated by transcriptional control in hypoxia, metabolic rate depression, as a consequence of reduced ATP level, causes inhibition of mRNA translation. In a multi-phase response to hypoxia, global protein synthesis is suppressed, mainly by phosphorylation of eIF2-alpha by PERK and inhibition of mTOR, causing suppression of 5'-cap-dependent mRNA translation. Growing evidence suggests that mRNAs undergo sorting at stress granules, which determines the fate of mRNA as to whether being translated, stored, or degraded. Data indicate that translation is suppressed only at 'free' polysomes, but is active at subsets of membrane-bound ribosomes. The recruitment of specific mRNAs into subcellular compartments seems to be crucial for local mRNA translation in prolonged hypoxia. Furthermore, ribosomes themselves may play a significant role in targeting mRNAs for translation. This review summarizes the multiple facets of the cellular adaptation to hypoxia observed in mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Hypoxia / physiology*
  • Cells / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Ribosomes / metabolism


  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Oxygen
  • Calcium