Changes in HIF-1α protein, pyruvate dehydrogenase phosphorylation, and activity with exercise in acute and chronic hypoxia

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 Oct;301(4):R1098-104. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00070.2011. Epub 2011 Jul 20.


Exercise under acute hypoxia elicits a large increase in blood lactate concentration ([La](b)) compared with normoxic exercise. However, several studies in humans show that with the transition to chronic hypoxia, exercise [La](b) returns to normoxic levels. Although extensively examined over the last decades, the muscle-specific mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon remain unknown. To assess the changes in skeletal muscle associated with a transition from acute to chronic hypoxia, CD-1 mice were exposed for 24 h (24H), 1 wk (1WH), or 4 wk (4WH) to hypobaric hypoxia (equivalent to 4,300 m), exercised under 12% O(2), and compared with normoxic mice (N) at 21% O(2). Since the enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) plays a major role in the metabolic fate of pyruvate (oxidation vs. lactate production), we assessed the changes in its activity and regulation. Here we report that when run under hypoxia, 24H mice exhibited the highest blood and intramuscular lactate of all groups, while the 1WH group approached N group values. Concomitantly, the 24H group exhibited the lowest PDH activity, associated with a higher phosphorylation (inactive) state of the Ser(232) residue of PDH, a site specific to PDH kinase-1 (PDK1). Furthermore, protein levels of PDK1 and its regulator, the hypoxia inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α), were both elevated in the 24H group compared with N and 1WH groups. Overall, our results point to a novel mechanism in muscle where the HIF-1α pathway is desensitized in the transition from acute to chronic hypoxia, leading to a reestablishment of PDH activity and a reduction in lactate production by the exercising muscles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit / metabolism*
  • Lactates / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Models, Animal
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / physiology*
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Hif1a protein, mouse
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Lactates
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex