Acute hypoxia produces a superoxide burst in cells

Free Radic Biol Med. 2014 Jun;71:146-156. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.03.011. Epub 2014 Mar 15.


Oxygen is a key molecule for cell metabolism. Eukaryotic cells sense the reduction in oxygen availability (hypoxia) and trigger a series of cellular and systemic responses to adapt to hypoxia, including the optimization of oxygen consumption. Many of these responses are mediated by a genetic program induced by the hypoxia-inducible transcription factors (HIFs), regulated by a family of prolyl hydroxylases (PHD or EGLN) that use oxygen as a substrate producing HIF hydroxylation. In parallel to these oxygen sensors modulating gene expression within hours, acute modulation of protein function in response to hypoxia is known to occur within minutes. Free radicals acting as second messengers, and oxidative posttranslational modifications, have been implied in both groups of responses. Localization and speciation of the paradoxical increase in reactive oxygen species production in hypoxia remain debatable. We have observed that several cell types respond to acute hypoxia with a transient increase in superoxide production for about 10 min, probably originating in the mitochondria. This may explain in part the apparently divergent results found by various groups that have not taken into account the time frame of hypoxic ROS production. We propose that this acute and transient hypoxia-induced superoxide burst may be translated into oxidative signals contributing to hypoxic adaptation and preconditioning.

Keywords: Cell signaling; Free radicals; Hypoxia; Ischemia; Oxidative phosphorylation; Reactive oxygen species; Superoxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Oxygen / pharmacology*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Respiratory Burst*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Superoxides / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Superoxides
  • Oxygen