Multiple oxygen tension environments reveal diverse patterns of transcriptional regulation in primary astrocytes

PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21638. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021638. Epub 2011 Jun 27.


The central nervous system normally functions at O(2) levels which would be regarded as hypoxic by most other tissues. However, most in vitro studies of neurons and astrocytes are conducted under hyperoxic conditions without consideration of O(2)-dependent cellular adaptation. We analyzed the reactivity of astrocytes to 1, 4 and 9% O(2) tensions compared to the cell culture standard of 20% O(2), to investigate their ability to sense and translate this O(2) information to transcriptional activity. Variance of ambient O(2) tension for rat astrocytes resulted in profound changes in ribosomal activity, cytoskeletal and energy-regulatory mechanisms and cytokine-related signaling. Clustering of transcriptional regulation patterns revealed four distinct response pattern groups that directionally pivoted around the 4% O(2) tension, or demonstrated coherent ascending/decreasing gene expression patterns in response to diverse oxygen tensions. Immune response and cell cycle/cancer-related signaling pathway transcriptomic subsets were significantly activated with increasing hypoxia, whilst hemostatic and cardiovascular signaling mechanisms were attenuated with increasing hypoxia. Our data indicate that variant O(2) tensions induce specific and physiologically-focused transcript regulation patterns that may underpin important physiological mechanisms that connect higher neurological activity to astrocytic function and ambient oxygen environments. These strongly defined patterns demonstrate a strong bias for physiological transcript programs to pivot around the 4% O(2) tension, while uni-modal programs that do not, appear more related to pathological actions. The functional interaction of these transcriptional 'programs' may serve to regulate the dynamic vascular responsivity of the central nervous system during periods of stress or heightened activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Cell Hypoxia / genetics
  • Cell Hypoxia / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Oxygen