Hypoxia inducible factor-1 mediates the expression of the immune checkpoint HLA-G in glioma cells through hypoxia response element located in exon 2

Oncotarget. 2016 Sep 27;7(39):63690-63707. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.11628.


HLA-G is an immune checkpoint molecule with specific relevance in cancer immunotherapy. It was first identified in cytotrophoblasts, protecting the fetus from maternal rejection. HLA-G tissue expression is very restricted but induced in numerous malignant tumors such as glioblastoma, contributing to their immune escape. Hypoxia occurs during placenta and tumor development and was shown to activate HLA-G. We aimed to elucidate the mechanisms of HLA-G activation under conditions combining hypoxia-mimicking treatment and 5-aza-2'deoxycytidine, a DNA demethylating agent used in anti-cancer therapy which also induces HLA-G. Both treatments enhanced the amount of HLA-G mRNA and protein in HLA-G negative U251MG glioma cells. Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assays and luciferase reporter gene assays revealed that HLA-G upregulation depends on Hypoxia Inducible Factor-1 (HIF-1) and a hypoxia responsive element (HRE) located in exon 2. A polymorphic HRE at -966 bp in the 5'UT region may modulate the magnitude of the response mediated by the exon 2 HRE. We suggest that therapeutic strategies should take into account that HLA-G expression in response to hypoxic tumor environment is dependent on HLA-G gene polymorphism and DNA methylation state at the HLA-G locus.

Keywords: HIF-1; HLA-G; exon 2 HRE; glioma.

MeSH terms

  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Azacitidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Azacitidine / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation
  • Decitabine
  • Exons
  • Genes, MHC Class I
  • Glioma / immunology*
  • HLA-G Antigens / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit / metabolism*
  • Immune System
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Response Elements*
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • HIF1A protein, human
  • HLA-G Antigens
  • Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit
  • Decitabine
  • Azacitidine