Hypoxia has been proposed as an important microenvironmental factor in the development of tissue fibrosis; however, the underlying mechanisms are not well defined. To examine the role of hypoxia-inducible factor–1 (HIF-1), a key mediator of cellular adaptation to hypoxia, in the development of fibrosis in mice, we inactivated Hif-1α in primary renal epithelial cells and in proximal tubules of kidneys subjected to unilateral ureteral obstruction (UUO) using Cre-loxP–mediated gene targeting. We found that Hif-1α enhanced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in vitro and induced epithelial cell migration through upregulation of lysyl oxidase genes. Genetic ablation of epithelial Hif-1α inhibited the development of tubulointerstitial fibrosis in UUO kidneys, which was associated with decreased interstitial collagen deposition, decreased inflammatory cell infiltration, and a reduction in the number of fibroblast-specific protein–1–expressing (FSP-1–expressing) interstitial cells. Furthermore, we demonstrate that increased renal HIF-1α expression is associated with tubulointerstitial injury in patients with chronic kidney disease. Thus, we provide clinical and genetic evidence that activation of HIF-1 signaling in renal epithelial cells is associated with the development of chronic renal disease and may promote fibrogenesis by increasing expression of extracellular matrix–modifying factors and lysyl oxidase genes and by facilitating EMT.
Debra F. Higgins, Kuniko Kimura, Wanja M. Bernhardt, Nikita Shrimanker, Yasuhiro Akai, Bernd Hohenstein, Yoshihiko Saito, Randall S. Johnson, Matthias Kretzler, Clemens D. Cohen, Kai-Uwe Eckardt, Masayuki Iwano, Volker H. Haase