BACKGROUND: Castrate-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) is a lethal condition in patients receiving androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer (PC). Despite numerous studies showing the expression of HIF1α protein under normoxia in PC cell lines, the role of this normoxic HIF1α expression in chemo-resistance and migration has not been investigated previously. As no method is currently available to determine which tumors will progress to CRPC, the role of HIF1α in PC and its potential for predicting the development of CRPC was also investigated. METHODS: The effect of HIF1α protein knockdown on chemo-resistance and migration of PC3 cells was assessed by cell counting and Transwell assays, respectively. Translation efficiency of HIF1α mRNA was determined in PC cells using a HIF1α 5'UTR-luciferase construct. Clinical outcomes were correlated following the staining of 100 prostate tumors for HIF1α expression. RESULTS: The CRPC-like cell lines (PC3 and DU145) expressed more HIF1α protein than an androgen sensitive cell line (LNCaP). Migration rate and chemo-resistance were higher in the PC3 cells and both were decreased when HIF1α expression was reduced. Increased translation of HIF1α mRNA may be responsible for HIF1α overexpression in PC3 cells. Patients whose tumors expressed HIF1α had significantly decreased metastasis-free survival and the patients who were on androgen-deprivation therapy had decreased CRPC-free survival on Kaplan-Meier analysis. On multivariate analysis HIF1α was an independent risk factor for progression to metastatic PC (Hazard ratio (HR) 9.8, p = 0.017) and development of CRPC (HR 10.0, p = 0.021) in patients on androgen-deprivation therapy. Notably the tumors which did not express HIF1α did not metastasize or develop CRPC. CONCLUSIONS: HIF1α is likely to contribute to metastasis and chemo-resistance of CRPC and targeted reduction of HIF1α may increase the responsiveness of CRPCs to chemotherapy. Expression of HIF1α may be a useful screening tool for development of CRPC.