Tissue hypoxia can occur in physiological and pathological conditions. When O2 availability decreases, the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1α is stabilized and regulates cellular adaptation to hypoxia. The objective of this study was to test whether HIF-1α regulates T cell fate and to define the molecular mechanisms of this control. Our data demonstrate that Th1 cells lose their capacity to produce IFN-γ when cultured under hypoxia. HIF-1α(-/-) Th1 cells were insensitive to hypoxia, underlining a critical role for HIF-1α. Our results point to a role for IL-10, as suggested by the increased IL-10 expression at low O2 levels and the unchanged IFN-γ production by IL-10-deficient Th1 cells stimulated in hypoxic conditions. Accordingly, STAT3 phosphorylation is increased in Th1 cells under hypoxia, leading to enhanced HIF-1α transcription, which, in turn, may inhibit suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 transcription. This positive-feedback loop reinforces STAT3 activation and downregulates Th1 responses that may cause collateral damage to the host.
Copyright © 2015 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.