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Deppe, Janina; Popp, Tanja; Egea, Virginia; Steinritz, Dirk; Schmidt, Annette; Thiermann, Horst; Weber, Christian and Ries, Christian (2016): Impairment of hypoxia-induced HIF-1 alpha signaling in keratinocytes and fibroblasts by sulfur mustard is counteracted by a selective PHD-2 inhibitor. In: Archives of Toxicology, Vol. 90, No. 5: pp. 1141-1150

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Skin exposure to sulfur mustard (SM) provokes long-term complications in wound healing. Similar to chronic wounds, SM-induced skin lesions are associated with low levels of oxygen in the wound tissue. Normally, skin cells respond to hypoxia by stabilization of the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF-1 alpha). HIF-1 alpha modulates expression of genes including VEGFA, BNIP3, and MMP2 that control processes such as angiogenesis, growth, and extracellular proteolysis essential for proper wound healing. The results of our studies revealed that exposure of primary normal human epidermal keratinocytes (NHEK) and primary normal human dermal fibroblasts (NHDF) to SM significantly impaired hypoxia-induced HIF-1 alpha stabilization and target gene expression in these cells. Addition of a selective inhibitor of the oxygen-sensitive prolyl hydroxylase domain-containing protein 2 (PHD-2), IOX2, fully recovered HIF-1 alpha stability, nuclear translocation, and target gene expression in NHEK and NHDF. Moreover, functional studies using a scratch wound assay demonstrated that the application of IOX2 efficiently counteracted SM-mediated deficiencies in monolayer regeneration under hypoxic conditions in NHEK and NHDF. Our findings describe a pathomechanism by which SM negatively affects hypoxia-stimulated HIF-1 alpha signaling in keratinocytes and fibroblasts and thus possibly contributes to delayed wound healing in SM-injured patients that could be treated with PHD-2 inhibitors.

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