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Human articular cartilage is an avascular tissue, and therefore it functions in a hypoxic environment. Cartilage cells, the chondrocytes, have adapted to this and actually use hypoxia to drive tissue-specific functions. We have previously shown that human chondrocytes enhance cartilage matrix synthesis in response to hypoxia specifically through hypoxia-inducible factor 2alpha (HIF-2alpha)-mediated up-regulation of master regulator transcription factor SOX9, which in turn drives expression of the main cartilage-specific extracellular matrix genes. HIF-alpha isoforms are themselves regulated by specific prolyl hydroxylase domain-containing proteins, which target them for proteosomal degradation. In fact, prolyl hydroxylase domains are the direct oxygen sensors because they require molecular oxygen as a co-substrate. Here, we have identified PHD2 as the dominant isoenzyme regulating HIF-2alpha stability in human chondrocytes. Moreover, specific inhibition of PHD2 using RNA interference-mediated depletion caused an up-regulation of SOX9 and enhanced extracellular matrix protein production. Depletion of PHD2 resulted in greater HIF-2alpha levels and therefore enhanced SOX9-induced cartilage matrix production compared with the levels normally found in hypoxia (1% oxygen) implying that PHD2 inhibition offers a novel means to enhance cartilage repair in vivo. The need for HIF-specific hydroxylase inhibition was highlighted because treatment with the 2-oxoglutarate analogue dimethyloxalylglycine (which also inhibits the collagen prolyl 4-hydroxylases) prevented secretion of type II collagen, a critical cartilage matrix component.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Chem

Publication Date





20472 - 20480


Adolescent, Adult, Base Sequence, Cartilage, Articular, Cells, Cultured, Child, Chondrocytes, Collagen, Extracellular Matrix, Female, Gene Deletion, Humans, Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-Proline Dioxygenases, Isoenzymes, Male, Middle Aged, Procollagen-Proline Dioxygenase, RNA, Small Interfering, SOX9 Transcription Factor, Transcription, Genetic, Transfection