Health Watch -- Managing Low Oxygen

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

One molecule can make a big difference throughout the body.

The body has a variety of mechanisms for helping it cope with different kinds of physical stress. One problem the body faces is lower oxygen levels - a condition known as hypoxia. This happens when not enough oxygen is delivered to cells. Heart attacks, strokes and lung disease are all situations in which cells may not get enough oxygen.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have made some important discoveries about the mechanism that helps the body deal with hypoxia. These findings may eventually help doctors find ways of treating or preventing the damage done by lack of oxygen.

The researchers found that in mice without the gene that controls the proteins that sense hypoxia, the lack of a particular molecule activated by hypoxia led to a variety of developmental defects throughout the body. These mice had enlarged hearts, fatty livers, eye defects and other biochemical abnormalities. They also had problems that have been associated with mitochondrial defects - problems within cells.

Dr. Joseph Garcia, the UT Southwestern scientist who was senior author of the study, said it was surprising to researchers just how many organs were affected and how similar the problems were to mitochondrial disease. It appears that there were mutations not only in DNA, but also in the mitochondria.

Researchers plan more study on this gene and molecule and their role in how the body responds to the conditions that affect oxygen levels.