Background  Infantile haemangioma (IH) may present as a precursor area of pallor prior to the initial proliferative phase, which implies that the early lesion may be hypoxic.

Objectives  To examine the effect of hypoxia on the expression and activity of two key molecular markers of IH, glucose transporter-1 (GLUT1) and indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO).

Methods  IH endothelial cells express both haematopoietic and endothelial cell markers. CD14+ monocyte-derived endothelial-like cells have been employed in the study of IH and is the cell type used in this study.

Results  GLUT1 transcript, protein and activity levels were strongly induced by hypoxia and remained elevated following 2 days of normoxic recovery. IDO transcript levels were not affected by hypoxia, although IDO protein level was reduced fivefold and IDO activity > 100-fold following 2 days of hypoxia. The protein and activity levels returned to normal following 2 days of normoxic recovery.

Conclusions  The findings link the tissue hypoxia that precedes lesion development and the expression and/or activity of two key IH proteins. The early hypoxic insult may contribute to the elevated GLUT1 levels in IH lesions, while the very low IDO activity during the hypoxic phase may promote activation of immune cells in the lesion, which release cytokines that trigger IDO expression and activity and entry into the proliferative phase. Interestingly, IH lesion development shares some common features with ischaemia-reperfusion injury.