Recent studies have indicated that regulatory mechanisms underlying the oxygen-dependent expression of the haematopoietic growth factor erythropoietin are widely operative in non-erythropoietin-producing cells and are involved in the regulation of other genes. An important characteristic of this system is that the inducible response to hypoxia is mimicked by exposure to particular transition metals such as cobaltous ions, and by iron chelation. We have investigated the extent of operation of this system in the regulation of a range of genes concerned with energy metabolism. The effects of hypoxia (1% oxygen), cobaltous ions and desferrioxamine on gene expression in tissue-culture cells was studied using RNase protection assays. Hypoxia induced the expression of glucose transporters in an isoform-specific manner; GLUT-1 and GLUT-3 were induced by hypoxia, whereas expression of GLUT-2 was decreased. Isoenzyme-specific regulation by hypoxia was also observed for genes encoding phosphofructokinase, aldolase and lactate dehydrogenase. For all of these genes, responses to cobaltous ions and desferrioxamine correlated in both direction and magnitude with the response to hypoxia. In contrast, a reduction in mitochondrial transcripts was observed in hypoxia, but these changes were not mimicked by either cobaltous ions or desferrioxamine. These findings indicate that similarities with erythropoietin regulation extend to the oxygen-dependent regulation-of genes encoding glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes but not to the regulation of mitochondrial transcripts, and they show that in glucose metabolism regulation by this system is isoenzyme- or isoform-specific.