Altered hypoxia-inducible factor-alpha (HIF-α) activity may have significant consequences in the hippocampus, which mediates declarative memory, has limited vascularization, and is vulnerable to hypoxic insults. Previous studies have reported that neurovascular coupling is reduced in aged brains and that diseases which cause hypoxia increase with age, which may render the hippocampus susceptible to acute hypoxia. Most studies have investigated the actions of HIF-α in aging cortical structures, but few have focused on the role of HIF-α within aged hippocampus. This study tests the hypothesis that aging is associated with impaired hippocampal HIF-α activity. Dorsal hippocampal sections from mice aged 3, 9, 18, and 24 months were probed for the presence of HIF-α isoforms or their associated gene products using immunohistochemistry and fluorescent in situ hybridization (fISH). A subset of each age was exposed to acute hypoxia (8% oxygen) for 3 h to investigate changes in the responsiveness of HIF-α to hypoxia. Basal mean intensity of fluorescently labeled HIF-1α protein increases with age in the hippocampus, whereas HIF-2α intensity only increases in the 24-month group. Acute hypoxic elevation of HIF-1α is lost with aging and is reversed in the 24-month group. fISH reveals that glycolytic genes induced by HIF-1α (lactose dehydrogenase-a, phosphoglycerate kinase 1, and pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1) are lower in aged hippocampus than in 3-month hippocampus, and mRNA for monocarboxylate transporter 1, a lactose transporter, increases. These results indicate that lactate, used in neurotransmission, may be limited in aged hippocampus, concurrent with impaired HIF-α response to hypoxic events. Therefore, impaired HIF-α may contribute to age-associated cognitive decline during hypoxic events.
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