Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) is a basic helix-loop-helix protein that activates transcription of hypoxia-inducible genes, including those encoding: erythropoietin, vascular endothelial growth factor, heme oxygenase-1, inducible nitric oxide synthase, and the glycolytic enzymes aldolase A, enolase 1, lactate dehydrogenase A, phosphofructokinase I, and phosphoglycerate kinase 1. Hypoxia response elements from these genes consist of a HIF-1 binding site (that contains the core sequence 5'-CGTG-3') as well as additional DNA sequences that are required for function, which in some elements include a second HIF-1 binding site. HIF-1 is a heterodimer. The HIF-1 alpha subunit is unique to HIF-1, whereas HIF-1 beta (ARNT) can dimerize with other bHLH-PAS proteins. Structural analysis of HIF-1 alpha revealed that dimerization with HIF-1 beta (ARNT) requires the HLH and PAS domains, DNA binding is mediated by the basic domain, and that HIF-1 alpha contains a carboxyl-terminal transactivation domain. Co-transfection of HIF-1 alpha and HIF-1 beta (ARNT) expression vectors and a reporter gene containing a wild-type hypoxia response element resulted in increased transcription in non-hypoxic cells and a superinduction of transcription in hypoxic cells, whereas HIF-1 expression vectors had no effect on the transcription of reporter genes containing a mutation in the HIF-1 binding site. HIF-1 alpha and HIF-1 beta (ARNT) protein levels were induced by hypoxia in all primary and transformed cell lines examined. In HeLa cells, the levels of HIF-1 alpha and HIF-1 beta protein and HIF-1 DNA-binding activity increased exponentially as cellular oxygen tension decreased, with maximum values at 0.5% oxygen and half-maximal values at 1.5 to 2% oxygen. HIF-1 alpha and HIF-1 beta (ARNT) mRNAs were detected in all human, mouse, and rat organs assayed and mRNA expression was modestly induced in rodents subjected to hypoxia. HIF-1 alpha protein levels were induced in vivo when animals were subjected to anemia or hypoxia. The HIF1A gene was mapped to human chromosome 14q21-q24 and mouse chromosome 12.