Organisms must be able to respond to low oxygen in a number of homeostatic and pathological contexts. Regulation of hypoxic responses via the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is well established, but evidence indicates that other, HIF-independent mechanisms are also involved. Here, we report a hypoxic response that depends on the accumulation of lactate, a metabolite whose production increases in hypoxic conditions. We find that the NDRG3 protein is degraded in a PHD2/VHL-dependent manner in normoxia but is protected from destruction by binding to lactate that accumulates under hypoxia. The stabilized NDRG3 protein binds c-Raf to mediate hypoxia-induced activation of Raf-ERK pathway, promoting angiogenesis and cell growth. Inhibiting cellular lactate production abolishes the NDRG3-mediated hypoxia responses. Our study, therefore, elucidates the molecular basis for lactate-induced hypoxia signaling, which can be exploited for the development of therapies targeting hypoxia-induced diseases.
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