CaMKIIα Expressing Neurons to Report Activity-Related Endogenous Hypoxia upon Motor-Cognitive Challenge

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Mar 20;22(6):3164. doi: 10.3390/ijms22063164.


We previously introduced the brain erythropoietin (EPO) circle as a model to explain the adaptive 'brain hardware upgrade' and enhanced performance. In this fundamental circle, brain cells, challenged by motor-cognitive tasks, experience functional hypoxia, triggering the expression of EPO among other genes. We attested hypoxic cells by a transgenic reporter approach under the ubiquitous CAG promoter, with Hif-1α oxygen-dependent degradation-domain (ODD) fused to CreERT2-recombinase. To specifically focus on the functional hypoxia of excitatory pyramidal neurons, here, we generated CaMKIIα-CreERT2-ODD::R26R-tdTomato mice. Behavioral challenges, light-sheet microscopy, immunohistochemistry, single-cell mRNA-seq, and neuronal cultures under normoxia or hypoxia served to portray these mice. Upon complex running wheel performance as the motor-cognitive task, a distinct increase in functional hypoxic neurons was assessed immunohistochemically and confirmed three-dimensionally. In contrast, fear conditioning as hippocampal stimulus was likely too short-lived to provoke neuronal hypoxia. Transcriptome data of hippocampus under normoxia versus inspiratory hypoxia revealed increases in CA1 CaMKIIα-neurons with an immature signature, characterized by the expression of Dcx, Tbr1, CaMKIIα, Tle4, and Zbtb20, and consistent with accelerated differentiation. The hypoxia reporter response was reproduced in vitro upon neuronal maturation. To conclude, task-associated activity triggers neuronal functional hypoxia as a local and brain-wide reaction mediating adaptive neuroplasticity. Hypoxia-induced genes such as EPO drive neuronal differentiation, brain maturation, and improved performance.

Keywords: Hif-1α; brain maturation; complex running wheel; hippocampus; immature neurons; light-sheet microscopy; neuron culture; neuronal differentiation; physiological hypoxia; scRNA-seq.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / genetics*
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism
  • Cell Hypoxia / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cognition*
  • Computational Biology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Doublecortin Protein
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Hypoxia / genetics*
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • Transcriptome


  • Dcx protein, mouse
  • Doublecortin Protein
  • Tamoxifen
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2