Neuronal apoptosis by prolyl hydroxylation: implication in nervous system tumours and the Warburg conundrum

J Cell Mol Med. 2009 Oct;13(10):4104-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2009.00881.x. Epub 2009 Aug 19.


Oxygen sensing is mediated partly via prolyl hydroxylation. The EglN prolyl hydroxylases are well characterized in regulating the hypoxia inducible factor alpha (HIF-alpha) hypoxic response, but also are implicated in HIF-independent processes. EglN3 executes apoptosis in neural precursors during development and failure of EglN3 developmental apoptosis can lead to certain forms of sympathetic nervous system tumours. Mutations in metabolic/mitochondrial enzymes (SDH, FH, IDH) impair EglN activity and predisposes to certain cancers. This is because the EglNs not only require molecular oxygen to execute hydroxylation, but also equally require the electron donor alpha-ketoglutarate, a metabolite from the Krebs cycle. Therefore EglN enzymes are considered oxygen, and also, metabolic sensors. alpha-Ketoglutarate is crucial for EglN hydroxylation activity, whereas the metabolites succinate and fumarate are inhibitors of the EglN enzymes. Since EglN activity is dependent upon metabolites that take part in the Krebs cycle, these enzymes are directly tied into the cellular metabolic network. Cancer cells tend to convert most glucose to lactate regardless of whether oxygen is present (aerobic glycolysis), an observation that was first made by Otto Warburg in 1924. Despite the striking difference in ATP production, cancer cells might favour aerobic glycolysis to escape from EglN hydroxylation, resulting in the accumulation of oncogenic HIFalpha and/or resistance to EglN3-mediated apoptosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Glycolysis*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation
  • Nervous System Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Nervous System Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Nervous System Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Proline / metabolism*


  • Proline