Hypoxia is an inherent condition of tumors and contributes to cancer development and progression. Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are the major transcription factors involved in response to low O2
levels, orchestrating the expression of hundreds of genes involved in cancer hallmarks’ acquisition and modulation of epigenetic mechanisms. Epigenetics refers to inheritable mechanisms responsible for regulating gene expression, including genes involved in the hypoxia response, without altering the sequence of DNA bases. The main epigenetic mechanisms are DNA methylation, non-coding RNAs, and histone modifications. These mechanisms are highly influenced by cell microenvironment, such as O2
levels. The balance and interaction between these pathways is essential for homeostasis and is directly linked to cellular metabolism. Some of the major players in the regulation of HIFs, such as prolyl hydroxylases, DNA methylation regulators, and histone modifiers require oxygen as a substrate, or have metabolic intermediates as cofactors, whose levels are altered during hypoxia. Furthermore, during pathological hypoxia, HIFs’ targets as well as alterations in epigenetic patterns impact several pathways linked to tumorigenesis, such as proliferation and apoptosis, among other hallmarks. Therefore, this review aims to elucidate the intricate relationship between hypoxia and epigenetic mechanisms, and its crucial impact on the acquisition of cancer hallmarks.
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