Unique expression of the atypical mitochondrial subunit NDUFA4L2 in cerebral pericytes fine tunes HIF activity in response to hypoxia

Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow &Metabolism, Ahead of Print. A central response to insufficient cerebral oxygen delivery is a profound reprograming of metabolism, which is mainly regulated by the Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF). Among other responses, HIF induces the expression of the atypical mitochondrial subunit NDUFA4L2. Surprisingly, NDUFA4L2 is constitutively expressed in the brain in non-hypoxic conditions. Analysis of publicly available single cell transcriptomic (scRNA-seq) data sets coupled with high-resolution multiplexed fluorescence RNA in situ hybridization (RNA F.I.S.H.) revealed that in the murine and human brain NDUFA4L2 is exclusively expressed in mural cells with the highest levels found in pericytes and declining along the arteriole-arterial smooth muscle cell axis. This pattern was mirrored by COX4I2, another atypical mitochondrial subunit. High NDUFA4L2 expression was also observed in human brain pericytes in vitro, decreasing when pericytes are muscularized and further induced by HIF stabilization in a PHD2/PHD3 dependent manner. In vivo, Vhl conditional inactivation in pericyte targeting Ng2-cre transgenic mice dramatically induced NDUFA4L2 expression. Finally NDUFA4L2 inactivation in pericytes increased oxygen consumption and therefore the degree of HIF pathway induction in hypoxia. In conclusion our work reveals that NDUFA4L2 together with COX4I2 is a key hypoxic-induced metabolic marker constitutively expressed in pericytes coupling mitochondrial oxygen consumption and cellular hypoxia response.