• Open Access

Neuronal apoptosis by prolyl hydroxylation: implication in nervous system tumours and the Warburg conundrum


  • Susanne Schlisio

    Corresponding author
    1. Oxygen Sensing and Cancer Laboratory, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Ltd., Karolinska Institute, Nobels vag, Stockholm, Sweden
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*Correspondence to: Susanne SCHLISIO, Ph.D., Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Ltd., Karolinska Institute, Nobels vag 3, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden.
Tel.: +49-8-52487117
Fax: +49-8-332821
E-mail: Susanne.Schlisio@licr.ki.se


  • • Introduction
  • • Lessons from a rare disease
  • • Specificity of function within the EglN prolyl hydroxylases
  • • Failure of EglN3-mediated apoptosis in the genesis of phaeochromocytoma
  • • Understanding the mechanistic basis of EglN3 killing
  • • Connecting EglN activity to the Warburg conundrum
  • • Future directions

Oxygen-sensing mechanisms are often dysfunctional in tumours. Oxygen sensing is mediated partly via prolyl hydroxylation. The EglN prolyl hydroxylases are well characterized in regulating the hypoxia inducible factor α (HIF-α) hypoxic response, but also are implicated in HIF-independent processes. EglN3 executes apoptosis in neural precursors during development and failure of EglN3 developmental apoptosis can lead to certain forms of sympathetic nervous system tumours. Mutations in metabolic/mitochondrial enzymes (SDH, FH, IDH) impair EglN activity and predisposes to certain cancers. This is because the EglNs not only require molecular oxygen to execute hydroxylation, but also equally require the electron donor α-ketoglutarate, a metabolite from the Krebs cycle. Therefore EglN enzymes are considered oxygen, and also, metabolic sensors. α-Ketoglutarate is crucial for EglN hydroxylation activity, whereas the metabolites succinate and fumarate are inhibitors of the EglN enzymes. Since EglN activity is dependent upon metabolites that take part in the Krebs cycle, these enzymes are directly tied into the cellular metabolic network. Cancer cells tend to convert most glucose to lactate regardless of whether oxygen is present (aerobic glycolysis), an observation that was first made by Otto Warburg in 1924. Despite the striking difference in ATP production, cancer cells might favour aerobic glycolysis to escape from EglN hydroxylation, resulting in the accumulation of oncogenic HIFα and/or resistance to EglN3-mediated apoptosis.