Sealy Center for Molecular Cardiology, Department of Medicine, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, USA.
Cyclooxygenases catalyze a rate-limiting step in the synthesis of vascular endothelial prostaglandins. Expression of the inducible cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) gene is increased by hypoxia in human vascular endothelial cells via the nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB p65 transcription factor, which is necessary but not sufficient to fully induce COX-2 transcription in response to hypoxia. After finding that cytoplasmic NF-kappaB p65 and IkappaBalpha (an inhibitory protein that binds NF-kappaB p65 precursors) levels are not changed by hypoxia, we hypothesized that other factors might play a role in regulating the COX-2 promoter, like the high-mobility-group (HMG) I(Y) family of proteins, which features multiple A.T hooks and is associated with NF-kappaB-mediated transactivation. Nuclear protein obtained from human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) was supplemented with HMG I(Y) during electrophoretic mobility shift assays using an NF-kappaB-3' element probe. These data suggested that HMG I(Y) proteins interact with NF-kappaB p65 to induce COX-2 promoter activity. We also found that TATA-box DNA demonstrated increased electrophoretic shifting indicative of DNA binding after incubation with either hypoxic HUVEC nuclear protein or normoxic nuclear protein supplemented with HMG I(Y). Transfection of HUVECs with an expression vector containing the COX-2 promoter ligated to HMG I(Y) cDNA demonstrated positive feedback on COX-2 promoter activity in hypoxia. We confirmed that COX-2 is transcriptionally regulated by hypoxia using a nuclear runoff assay. Hypoxia increased steady-state cellular levels of HMG I(Y) mRNA as an early event, corresponding with increases in HMG I(Y) protein. Overexpression of HMG I(Y) was associated in a dose-response relationship with increasing prevalence of the COX-2 protein in hypoxic HUVECs. Furthermore, sense (and antisense) HMG I(Y) overexpression caused stimulation (or inhibition) of COX-2 promoter activity as measured by luciferase reporter gene expression. The physiological significance of these findings was demonstrated by cyclooxygenase-dependent release of prostaglandin E2 by HUVECs in hypoxia. We concluded that hypoxia increases expression of HMG I(Y) proteins while facilitating transactivation of the COX-2 promoter. The HMG I(Y) family of proteins may therefore function as part of a hypoxia-induced enhanceosome that helps to promote transcription of COX-2.