HIF-2alpha expression in human fetal paraganglia and neuroblastoma: relation to sympathetic differentiation, glucose deficiency, and hypoxia.
Nilsson H., Jögi A., Beckman S., Harris AL., Poellinger L., Påhlman S.
Solid tumors are frequently necrotic and hypoxic due to poor vascularization. Tumor cells adapt to hypoxia by modulating their phenotype. Key players in this process are the hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF-1alpha to 3alpha). HIFs are also expressed during normal development; for example, HIF-2alpha is specifically expressed and appears to be involved in the development of the murine sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Here, we demonstrate that HIF-2alpha protein is selectively present in human fetal week 8.5 SNS paraganglia. Neuroblastoma is derived from SNS precursors. In a subset of neuroblastomas, a spontaneous neuronal to neuroendocrine differentiation occurs in areas adjacent to necrotic zones. As HIF-2alpha activity has been associated not only with hypoxic but also with hypoglycemic conditions, we have investigated putative effects of hypoxia, glucose depletion, and HIF-2alpha on the neuroblastoma phenotype. HIF-2alpha was detected in hypoxic and in well-oxygenized neuroblastoma cells and tissue, presumably reflecting their embryonic features. With regard to differentiation, hypoxic cells lost their neuronal/neuroendocrine features and gained marker gene expression associated with an immature, neural crest-like phenotype. Low glucose potentiated the effect of hypoxia. These findings suggest that poorly vascularized neuroblastomas become immature and maintain a more aggressive phenotype, which possibly could involve a sustained stabilization and activation of HIF-2alpha.