Cells exposed to low-oxygen conditions (hypoxia) alter their metabolism to survive. This response, although vital during development and high-altitude survival, is now known to be a major factor in the selection of cells with a transformed metabolic phenotype during tumorigenesis. It is thought that hypoxia-selected cells have increased invasive capacity and resistance to both chemo- and radiotherapies, and therefore represent an attractive target for antitumor therapy. Hypoxia inducible factors (HIFs) are responsible for the majority of gene expression changes under hypoxia, and are themselves controlled by the oxygen-sensing HIF prolyl hydroxylases (PHDs). It was previously shown that mutations in succinate dehydrogenase lead to the inactivation PHDs under normoxic conditions, which can be overcome by treatment with α-ketoglutarate derivatives. Given that solid tumors contain large regions of hypoxia, the reactivation of PHDs in these conditions could induce metabolic catastrophe and therefore prove an effective antitumor therapy. In this report we demonstrate that derivatized α-ketoglutarate can be used as a strategy for maintaining PHD activity under hypoxia. By increasing intracellular α-ketoglutarate and activating PHDs we trigger PHD-dependent reversal of HIF1 activation, and PHD-dependent hypoxic cell death. We also show that derivatized α-ketoglutarate can permeate multiple layers of cells, reducing HIF1α levels and its target genes in vivo.
- prolyl hydroxylase