Research Summary: Effects of Exposure to a DNA Damaging Agent on the Hypoxia Inducible Factors in Organogenesis Stage Mouse Limbs
Hypoxia plays a critical role in coordinating cell survival, differentiation and death in normal embryogenesis; during limb pattern formation, hypoxia affects two key processes, chondrogenesis and cell death. Hypoxia promotes chondrocyte differentiation and cartilage matrix synthesis and suppresses terminal differentiation. Depending on the context, hypoxia may induce cell cycle arrest, pro- or anti-apoptotic genes, or autophagy. The response to hypoxia is controlled by hypoxia inducible transcription factors, specifically Hif1a, Hif2a and Hif3a. Under normoxia, the hypoxia-inducible factors respond to a variety of stimuli that include several well established teratogens, such as retinoic acid, heavy metals and hyperglycemia. We hypothesize that teratogenic exposures disrupt limb development by altering the hypoxia signalling pathway. To test this hypothesis, we assessed the effects of a DNA damaging alkylating agent, 4-hydroperoxycyclophosphamide, on the hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) transcription factors and on hypoxia in the murine limb bud culture system. 4-Hydroperoxycyclophosphamide exposure increased HIF1 DNA binding activity and HIF1A and HIF2A, but not HIF3A, protein concentrations. HIF1A and HIF2A immunoreactivities were detected in the apical ectodermal ridge and interdigital regions, where cell death sculpts the limb; 4-hydroperoxycyclophosphamide treatment enhanced their immunoreactivities, specifically in these regions. In contrast, hypoxia was localized to areas of chondrogenesis, the cartilaginous anlagen of the developing long bone and phalanges, and was not enhanced by drug exposure. Thus, the exposure of limb buds in vitro to a DNA damaging teratogen triggered a hypoxia signalling response that was associated with cell death. During limb development the HIFs have oxygen-independent functions.