The efficacy of targeting pH disruption to induce cell death in the acidic and hypoxic tumor microenvironment continues to be assessed. Here we analyzed the impact of varying levels of hypoxia in acidic conditions on fibroblast and tumor cell survival. Across all cell lines tested, hypoxia (1% O(2)) provided protection against acidosis induced cell death compared to normoxia. Meanwhile severe hypoxia (0.1% O(2)) removed this protection and in some cases exacerbated acidosis-induced cell death. Differential survival between cell types during external acidosis correlated with their respective intracellular pH regulating capabilities. Cellular ATP measurements were conducted to determine their contribution to cell survival under these combined stresses. In general, hypoxia (1% O(2)) maintained elevated ATP levels in acidic conditions while severe hypoxia did not. To further explore this interaction we combined acidosis with ATP depletion using 2-deoxyglucose and observed an enhanced rate of cell mortality. Striking results were also observed with hypoxia providing protection against cell death in spite of a severe metabolic stress induced by a combination of acidosis and oligomycin. Finally, we demonstrated that both HIF1α and HIF2α expression were drastically reduced in hypoxic and acidic conditions indicating a sensitivity of this protein to cellular pH conditions. This knockdown of HIF expression by acidosis has implications for the development of therapies targeting the disruption of cellular pH regulation. Our results reinforce the proof of concept that acidosis and metabolic disruption affecting ATP levels could be exploited as a tumor cell killing strategy.
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