Hypoxia and hypoxia-inducible factors as regulators of T cell development, differentiation, and function

Immunol Res. 2013 Mar;55(1-3):58-70. doi: 10.1007/s12026-012-8349-8.


Oxygen is a molecule that is central to cellular respiration and viability, yet there are multiple physiologic and pathological contexts in which cells experience conditions of insufficient oxygen availability, a state known as hypoxia. Given the metabolic challenges of a low oxygen environment, hypoxia elicits a range of adaptive responses at the cellular, tissue, and systemic level to promote continued survival and function. Within this context, T lymphocytes are a highly migratory cell type of the adaptive immune system that frequently encounters a wide range of oxygen tensions in both health and disease. It is now clear that oxygen availability regulates T cell differentiation and function, a response orchestrated in large part by the hypoxia-inducible factor transcription factors. Here, we discuss the physiologic scope of hypoxia and hypoxic signaling, the contribution of these pathways in regulating T cell biology, and current gaps in our understanding. Finally, we discuss how emerging therapies that modulate the hypoxic response may offer new modalities to alter T cell function and the outcome of acute and chronic pathologies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / immunology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / immunology*
  • Oxygen / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Oxygen