The von Hippel-Lindau Chuvash mutation in mice causes carotid-body hyperplasia and enhanced ventilatory sensitivity to hypoxia
The hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) family of transcription factors coordinates diverse cellular and systemic responses to hypoxia. Chuvash polycythemia (CP) is an autosomal recessive disorder in humans in which there is impaired oxygen-dependent degradation of HIF, resulting in long-term systemic elevation of HIF levels at normal oxygen tensions. CP patients demonstrate the characteristic features of ventilatory acclimatization to hypoxia, namely, an elevated baseline ventilation and enhanced acute hypoxic ventilatory response (AHVR). We investigated the ventilatory and carotid-body phenotype of a mouse model of CP, using whole-body plethysmography, immunohistochemistry, and electron microscopy. In keeping with studies in humans, CP mice had elevated ventilation in euoxia and a significantly exaggerated AHVR when exposed to 10% oxygen, with or without the addition of 3% carbon dioxide. Carotid-body immunohistochemistry demonstrated marked hyperplasia of the oxygen-sensing type I cells, and the cells themselves appeared enlarged with more prominent nuclei. This hypertrophy was confirmed by electron microscopy, which also revealed that the type I cells contained an increased number of mitochondria, enlarged dense-cored vesicles, and markedly expanded rough endoplasmic reticulum. The morphological and ultrastructural changes seen in the CP mouse carotid body are strikingly similar to those observed in animals exposed to chronic hypoxia. Our study demonstrates that the HIF pathway plays a major role, not only in regulating both euoxic ventilatory control and the sensitivity of the response to hypoxia, but also in determining the morphology of the carotid body. Copyright © 2014 the American Physiological Society.