Because of the central role that red blood cells play in the delivery of oxygen to tissues of the body, red blood cell mass must be controlled at precise levels. The glycoprotein hormone erythropoietin (EPO) regulates red blood cell mass. transcription, in turn, is regulated by a distinctive oxygen-sensing mechanism. In this pathway, prolyl hydroxylase domain protein (PHD) site-specifically hydroxylates the α-subunit of the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor α (HIF-α), thereby targeting the latter for degradation by the von Hippel–Lindau tumor-suppressor protein (VHL). Under hypoxic conditions, this posttranslational modification of HIF-α is inhibited, which stabilizes it and promotes the transcriptional activation of genes, including that for EPO. Rare patients with erythrocytosis have mutations in the genes encoding for PHD2, HIF-2α, and VHL, which implicates these proteins as critical to the proper control of red blood cell mass in humans.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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