Adaptive response to hypoxia and remote ischaemia pre-conditioning: a new hypoxia-inducible factors era in clinical medicine

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Transient ischaemia leads to tolerance to subsequent protracted ischaemia. This ‘ischaemia pre-conditioning’ results from the induction of numerous protective genes, involved in cell metabolism, proliferation and survival, in antioxidant capacity, angiogenesis, vascular tone and erythropoiesis. Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF) play a pivotal role in this transcriptional adaptive response. HIF prolyl hydroxylases (PHDs), serving as oxygen sensors, control HIFα degradation. HIF-mediated ischaemic pre-conditioning can be achieved with the administration of PHD inhibitors, with the attenuation of organ injury under various hypoxic and toxic insults. Clinical trials are currently under way, evaluating PHD inhibitors as inducers of erythropoietin. Once their safety is established, their potential use might be further tested in clinical trials in various forms of acute ischaemic and toxic organ damage.Repeated transient limb ischaemia was also found to attenuate ischaemic injury in remote organs. This ‘remote ischaemic pre-conditioning’ phenomenon (RIP) has been extensively studied recently in small clinical trials, preceding, or in parallel with an abrupt insult, such as myocardial infarction, cardiac surgery or radiocontrast administration. Initial results are promising, suggesting organ protection. Large-scale multi-centre studies are currently under way, evaluating the protective potential of RIP in cardiac surgery, in the management of myocardial infarction and in organ transplantation. The mechanisms of organ protection provided by RIP are poorly understood, but HIF seemingly play a role as well.Thus, Inhibition of HIF degradation with PHD inhibitors, as well as RIP (in part through HIF), might develop into novel clinical interventions in organ protection in the near future.

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