Olga Kashpur

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Tanja Dominko, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Joseph Duffy, Department Head

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

David S. Adams, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Stephen Doxsey, Committee Member




This thesis investigates the effects of low oxygen culture conditions and fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF2) on adult human dermal fibroblasts.

It was previously shown that low oxygen and FGF2 culture conditions lead to an extension of proliferative lifespan, low-level activation of stem cell genes, and global transcriptional changes in adult human dermal fibroblasts. Additionally, an increased in vivo tissue regenerative response can be observed when human muscle-derived fibroblasts grown with FGF2 and low oxygen are implanted into mouse muscle injury, leading to a decrease in collagen deposition and scar formation and increase of functional skeletal muscle regeneration, including formation of Pax7+ muscle stem cells.

These findings led to an analysis of key cellular oxygen sensors, hypoxia inducible factors (HIFs) and their role in this regenerative response. Directly linking these factors with the regenerative response, I have shown, with knockdown experiments, that HIF-2α is required for the increased proliferative capability and decreased senescence of human dermal fibroblasts (hDFs) induced by hypoxia. I have also determined that low oxygen causes an early and transient increase of HIF-1α and late and sustained increase of HIF-2α protein accompanied by increased nuclear translocation. Using overexpression and knockdown approaches via lent-virus, I determined that HIF-2α appears to modulate FGF2 signaling through the FGF receptors. First, under low oxygen conditions, exogenous FGF2 led to downregulation of endogenous FGF2, which can be mimicked by overexpression of HIF-2α. In ambient oxygen we didn't see this effect. Second, HIF-2α overexpression appears to lead to increases in FGFR1 phosphorylation and consequently increased ERK1/2 phosphorylation, and increases in the expression of heparan sulfate modifying enzymes (NDST1, NDST2, and EXTL2). Lastly, sustained supplementation with FGF2 in low oxygen inhibits receptor-mediated FGF2 signaling.

To understand these effects at the transcriptional level, using microarray technology, we identified oxygen-mediated FGF2 effects on genes involved in cell survival and proliferation.

Through bioinformatics analyses, I determined that genes involved in wound healing (extracellular matrix genes, adhesion molecules, cytokines) are upregulated in FGF2 treated fibroblasts grown under low oxygen. By utilizing a gain-of-function approach, we were able to assess the effects of altered HIF-2α activity on the expression of Oct4, Sox2, Nanog, Rex1, and Lin28 in adult hDFs. The results indicate that overexpression of the HIF-2α transcription factor increases Oct4 mRNA, but not Oct4 protein, levels, and had no effect on Nanog and Lin28 proteins. HIF-2α overexpression also mediated FGF2 induction of Sox2 and Rex1 proteins of higher molecular weight.

This thesis expands our knowledge about effects of low oxygen and FGF2 on adult human dermal fibroblasts and explains in part, how FGF2 under low oxygen conditions may lead to increased proliferation, extended life span, regenerative competency and increased developmental plasticity of adult hDFs.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Biology & Biotechnology

Project Type


Date Accepted





basic fibroblast growth factor, developmental plasticity, human fibroblasts, hypoxia-inducible factor, low oxygen