Identification and functional characterization of hypoxia-inducible factor 2alpha from the estuarine teleost, Fundulus heteroclitus: interaction of HIF-2alpha with two ARNT2 splice variants. Academic Article uri icon


  • The hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are dimeric transcription factors that mediate changes in gene expression during adaptation of animals to oxygen stress. Both alpha (HIFalpha) and beta (ARNT) subunits are members of the basic helix-loop-helix/Per-ARNT-Sim family of proteins. Mammals have at least three different HIF-alpha subunits, paralogous proteins expressed in tissue-specific fashion (HIF-1alpha, HIF-2alpha, and HIF-3alpha). However, the diversity and functional properties of teleost HIFs are poorly understood. In efforts to characterize mechanisms of hypoxia adaptation in estuarine fish, we have isolated cDNAs encoding HIF subunits from Fundulus heteroclitus (Atlantic killifish or mummichog), including a HIF-2alpha homolog and ARNT2alt, a splice variant of ARNT2 that contains an additional exon encoding 16 amino acids near the amino terminus. HIF-2alpha protein synthesized in vitro binds cognate DNA elements in concert with either Fundulus ARNT2 splice variant or murine ARNT1. HIF-2alpha, ARNT2, and ARNT2alt mRNAs are expressed in all organs examined. The HIF-2alpha cDNA encodes a protein of 96.4 kDa, sharing 53-54% identity with mammalian and avian orthologs. The oxygen-dependent degradation domain, however, exhibits substantial divergence from well-conserved mammalian sequences, suggesting the possibility of important functional differences, perhaps in the sensitivity to induction of activity by hypoxia. Hypoxia-tolerant fishes such as F. heteroclitus represent a unique opportunity for the study of functional and evolutionary aspects of adaptation to hypoxia at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels. This study extends the understanding of hypoxia signaling in fish, the evolution and diversity of HIF function, and the evolution of the PAS family of proteins.

publication date

  • April 15, 2002