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J Biol Chem. 2010 Aug 27;285(35):26852-60. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.147041. Epub 2010 Jun 25.

Toxoplasma gondii activates hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) by stabilizing the HIF-1alpha subunit via type I activin-like receptor kinase receptor signaling.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73104, USA.


Toxoplasma gondii is an intracellular protozoan parasite that can cause devastating disease in fetuses and immune-compromised individuals. We previously reported that the alpha subunit of the host cell transcription factor, hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1), is up-regulated by infection and necessary for Toxoplasma growth. Under basal conditions, HIF-1alpha is constitutively expressed but rapidly targeted for proteasomal degradation after two proline residues are hydroxylated by a family of prolyl hydroxylases (PHDs). The PHDs are alpha-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases that have low K(m) values for oxygen, making them important cellular oxygen sensors. Thus, when oxygen levels decrease, HIF-1alpha is not hydroxylated, and HIF-1 is activated. How Toxoplasma activates HIF-1 under normoxic conditions remains unknown. Here, we report that Toxoplasma infection increases HIF-1alpha stability by preventing HIF-1alpha prolyl hydroxylation. Infection significantly decreases PHD2 abundance, which is the key prolyl hydroxylase for regulating HIF-1alpha. The effects of Toxoplasma on HIF-1alpha abundance and prolyl hydroxylase activity require activin-like receptor kinase signaling. Finally, parasite growth is severely diminished when signaling from this family of receptors is inhibited. Together, these data indicate that PHD2 is a key host cell factor for T. gondii growth and represent a novel mechanism by which a microbial pathogen subverts host cell signaling and transcription to establish its replicative niche.

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