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Hypoxia is associated with the increased malignancy of a broad range of solid tumours; however, whilst very severe hypoxia has been widely shown to induce cell cycle arrest, the impact of pathophysiological hypoxia on tumour cell proliferation is poorly understood. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of different oxygen levels on glioblastoma (GBM) cell proliferation and survival. GBM is an extremely aggressive brain tumour with a heterogeneous oxygenation pattern. The effect of a range of oxygen tensions on GBM cell lines and primary cells were assessed using flow cytometry. Results indicate that cell cycle distribution and viability are unaffected by long term exposure (up to 4 days) to pathophysiological levels of oxygen (1-8% O 2). Both transient cell cycle arrest and small amounts of cell death could only be detected when cells were exposed to severe hypoxia (0.1% O2). No significant changes in p21 protein expression levels were detected. These findings reinforce the importance of using physiologically relevant oxygen tensions when investigating tumour hypoxia, and help to explain how solid tumours can be both hypoxic and highly proliferative, as is the case with GBM.
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