The HIF transcription factor promotes adaptation to hypoxia and stimulates the growth of certain cancers, including triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). The HIFα subunit is usually prolyl-hydroxylated by EglN family members under normoxic conditions, causing its rapid degradation. We confirmed that TNBC cells secrete glutamate, which we found is both necessary and sufficient for the paracrine induction of HIF1α in such cells under normoxic conditions. Glutamate inhibits the xCT glutamate-cystine antiporter, leading to intracellular cysteine depletion. EglN1, the main HIFα prolyl-hydroxylase, undergoes oxidative self-inactivation in the absence of cysteine both in biochemical assays and in cells, resulting in HIF1α accumulation. Therefore, EglN1 senses both oxygen and cysteine.
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