Collagen production is fundamental for the ontogeny and the phylogeny of all multicellular organisms. It depends on hydroxylation of proline residues, a reaction that uses molecular oxygen as a substrate. This dependency is expected to limit collagen production to oxygenated cells. However, during embryogenesis, cells in different tissues that develop under low oxygen levels must produce this essential protein. In this study, using the growth plate of developing bones as a model system, we identify the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor 1 α (HIF1α) as a central component in a mechanism that underlies collagen hydroxylation and secretion by hypoxic cells. We show that Hif1a loss of function in growth plate chondrocytes arrests the secretion of extracellular matrix proteins, including collagen type II. Reduced collagen hydroxylation and endoplasmic reticulum stress induction in Hif1a-depleted cells suggests that HIF1α regulates collagen secretion by mediating its hydroxylation and consequently its folding. We demonstrate in vivo the ability of Hif1α to drive the transcription of collagen prolyl 4-hydroxylase, which catalyzes collagen hydroxylation. We also show that, concurrently, HIF1α maintains cellular levels of oxygen, most likely by controlling the expression of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1, an inhibitor of the tricarboxylic acid cycle. Through this two-armed mechanism, HIF1α acts as a central regulator of collagen production that allows chondrocytes to maintain their function as professional secretory cells in the hypoxic growth plate. As hypoxic conditions occur also during pathological conditions such as cancer, our findings may promote the understanding not only of embryogenesis, but also of pathological processes.
- Accepted August 26, 2012.