ATR controls cellular adaptation to hypoxia through positive regulation of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) expression

Oncogene. 2013 Sep 12;32(37):4387-96. doi: 10.1038/onc.2012.462. Epub 2012 Oct 22.


Tumor cells adaptation to severe oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) plays a major role in tumor progression. The transcription factor HIF-1 (hypoxia-inducible factor 1), whose α-subunit is stabilized under hypoxic conditions is a key component of this process. Recent studies showed that two members of the phosphoinositide 3-kinase-related kinases (PIKKs) family, ATM (ataxia telangiectasia mutated) and DNA-PK (DNA-dependent protein kinase), regulate the hypoxic-dependent accumulation of HIF-1. These proteins initiate cellular stress responses when DNA damage occurs. In addition, it has been demonstrated that extreme hypoxia induces a replicative stress resulting in regions of single-stranded DNA at stalled replication forks and the activation of ATR (ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3 related protein), another member of the PIKKs family. Here, we show that even less severe hypoxia (0.1% O2) also induces activation of ATR through replicative stress. Importantly, in using either transiently silenced ATR cells, cells expressing an inactive form of ATR or cells exposed to an ATR inhibitor (CGK733), we demonstrate that hypoxic ATR activation positively regulates the key transcription factor HIF-1 independently of the checkpoint kinase Chk1. We show that ATR kinase activity regulates HIF-1α at the translational level and we find that the elements necessary for the regulation of HIF-1α translation are located within the coding region of HIF-1α mRNA. Finally, by using three independent cellular models, we clearly show that the loss of ATR expression and/or kinase activity results in the decrease of HIF-1 DNA binding under hypoxia and consequently affects protein expression levels of two HIF-1 target genes, GLUT-1 and CAIX. Taken together, our data show a new function for ATR in cellular adaptation to hypoxia through regulation of HIF-1α translation. Our work offers new prospect for cancer therapy using ATR inhibitors with the potential to decrease cellular adaptation in hypoxic tumors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / drug effects
  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics*
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Benzeneacetamides / pharmacology
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 / genetics*
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Thiourea / analogs & derivatives
  • Thiourea / pharmacology


  • Benzeneacetamides
  • CGK 733
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1
  • ATR protein, human
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Thiourea