The bZIP transcription factor Nrf2 controls a genetic program that protects cells from oxidative damage and maintains cellular redox homeostasis. Keap1, a BTB-Kelch protein, is the major upstream regulator of Nrf2 and controls both the subcellular localization and steady-state levels of Nrf2. In this report, we demonstrate that Keap1 functions as a substrate adaptor protein for a Cul3-dependent E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. Keap1 assembles into a functional E3 ubiquitin ligase complex with Cul3 and Rbx1 that targets multiple lysine residues located in the N-terminal Neh2 domain of Nrf2 for ubiquitin conjugation both in vivo and in vitro. Keap1-dependent ubiquitination of Nrf2 is inhibited following exposure of cells to quinone-induced oxidative stress and sulforaphane, a cancer-preventive isothiocyanate. A mutant Keap1 protein containing a single cysteine-to-serine substitution at residue 151 within the BTB domain of Keap1 is markedly resistant to inhibition by either quinone-induced oxidative stress or sulforaphane. Inhibition of Keap1-dependent ubiquitination of Nrf2 correlates with decreased association of Keap1 with Cul3. Neither quinone-induced oxidative stress nor sulforaphane disrupts association between Keap1 and Nrf2. Our results suggest that the ability of Keap1 to assemble into a functional E3 ubiquitin ligase complex is the critical determinant that controls steady-state levels of Nrf2 in response to cancer-preventive compounds and oxidative stress.
To maintain intracellular redox homeostasis, genes encoding many antioxidants and detoxification enzymes are transcriptionally upregulated upon deleterious oxidative stress through the cis antioxidant responsive elements (AREs) in their promoter regions. Nrf2 is the critical transcription factor responsible for ARE-dependent transcription. We and others have previously demonstrated that Nrf2 is targeted for ubiquitin-mediated degradation by Keap1 in a redox-sensitive manner through modifications of distinct cysteine residues of Keap1. Here, we report that p300/CBP directly acetylates Nrf2 in response to arsenite-induced stress. We have identified multiple acetylated lysine residues within the Nrf2 Neh1 DNA-binding domain. Combined lysine-to-arginine mutations on the acetylation sites, with no effects on Nrf2 protein stability, compromised the DNA-binding activity of Nrf2 in a promoter-specific manner. These findings demonstrated that acetylation of Nrf2 by p300/CBP augments promoter-specific DNA binding of Nrf2 and established acetylation as a novel regulatory mechanism that functions in concert with Keap1-mediated ubiquitination in modulating the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response.
The transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a master regulator of cellular redox homeostasis. As an adaptive response to oxidative stress, Nrf2 activates the transcription of a battery of genes encoding antioxidants, detoxification enzymes, and xenobiotic transporters by binding the cis-antioxidant response element in the promoter regions of genes. The magnitude and duration of inducible Nrf2 signaling is delicately controlled at multiple levels by Keap1, which targets Nrf2 for redox-sensitive ubiquitin-mediated degradation in the cytoplasm and exports Nrf2 from the nucleus. However, it is not clear how Keap1 gains access to the nucleus. In this study, we show that Keap1 is constantly shuttling between the nucleus and the cytoplasm under physiological conditions. The nuclear import of Keap1 requires its C-terminal Kelch domain and is independent of Nrf1 and Nrf2. We have determined that importin α7, also known as karyopherin α6 (KPNA6), directly interacts with the Kelch domain of Keap1. Overexpression of KPNA6 facilitates Keap1 nuclear import and attenuates Nrf2 signaling, whereas knockdown of KPNA6 slows down Keap1 nuclear import and enhances the Nrf2-mediated adaptive response induced by oxidative stress. Furthermore, KPNA6 accelerates the clearance of Nrf2 protein from the nucleus during the postinduction phase, therefore promoting restoration of the Nrf2 protein to basal levels. These findings demonstrate that KPNA6-mediated Keap1 nuclear import plays an essential role in modulating the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response and maintaining cellular redox homeostasis.
The transcription factor Nrf2 regulates cellular redox homeostasis. Under basal conditions, Keap1 recruits Nrf2 into the Cul3-containing E3 ubiquitin ligase complex for ubiquitin conjugation and subsequent proteasomal degradation. Oxidative stress triggers activation of Nrf2 through inhibition of E3 ubiquitin ligase activity, resulting in increased levels of Nrf2 and transcriptional activation of Nrf2-dependent genes. In this study, we identify Keap1 as a key postinduction repressor of Nrf2 and demonstrate that a nuclear export sequence (NES) in Keap1 is required for termination of Nrf2-antioxidant response element (ARE) signaling by escorting nuclear export of Nrf2. We provide evidence that ubiquitination of Nrf2 is carried out in the cytosol. Furthermore, we show that Keap1 nuclear translocation is independent of Nrf2 and the Nrf2-Keap1 complex does not bind the ARE. Collectively, our results suggest the following mechanism of postinduction repression: upon recovery of cellular redox homeostasis, Keap1 translocates into the nucleus to dissociate Nrf2 from the ARE. The Nrf2-Keap1 complex is then transported out of the nucleus by the NES in Keap1. Once in the cytoplasm, the Keap1-Nrf2 complex associates with the E3 ubiquitin ligase, resulting in degradation of Nrf2 and termination of the Nrf2 signaling pathway. Hence, postinduction repression of the Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response is controlled by the nuclear export function of Keap1 in alliance with the cytoplasmic ubiquitination and degradation machinery.
Nrf2 is the key transcription factor regulating the antioxidant response. Nrf2 signaling is repressed by Keap1 at basal condition and induced by oxidative stress. Keap1 is recently identified as a Cullin 3-dependent substrate adaptor protein. A two-sites binding “hinge & latch” model vividly depicts how Keap1 can efficiently present Nrf2 as substrate for ubiquitination. Oxidative perturbation can impede Keap1-mediated Nrf2 ubiquitination but fail to disrupt Nrf2/Keap1 binding. Nrf2 per se is a redox-sensitive transcripon factor. A new Nrf2-mediated redox signaling model is proposed based on these new discoveries. Free floating Nrf2 protein functions as a redox-sensitive probe. Keap1 instead functions as a gate keeper to control the availability of Nrf2 probes and thus regulates the overall sensitivity of the redox signaling.
Nrf2; Keap1; redox
The bZIP transcription factor Nrf2 controls a genetic program that protects cells from oxidative damage and maintains cellular redox homeostasis. Keap1, a BTB-Kelch protein, is the major upstream regulator of Nrf2. Keap1 functions as a substrate adaptor protein for a Cul3-dependent E3 ubiquitin ligase complex to repress steady-state levels of Nrf2 and Nrf2-dependent transcription. Cullin-dependent ubiquitin ligase complexes have been proposed to undergo dynamic cycles of assembly and disassembly that enable substrate adaptor exchange or recycling. In this report, we have characterized the importance of substrate adaptor recycling for regulation of Keap1-mediated repression of Nrf2. Association of Keap1 with Cul3 was decreased by ectopic expression of CAND1 and was increased by small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated knockdown of CAND1. However, both ectopic overexpression and siRNA-mediated knockdown of CAND1 decreased the ability of Keap1 to target Nrf2 for ubiquitin-dependent degradation, resulting in stabilization of Nrf2 and activation of Nrf2-dependent gene expression. Neddylation of Cul3 on Lys 712 is required for Keap1-dependent ubiquitination of Nrf2 in vivo. However, the K712R mutant Cul3 molecule, which is not neddylated, can still assemble with Keap1 into a functional ubiquitin ligase complex in vitro. These results provide support for a model in which substrate adaptor recycling is required for efficient substrate ubiquitination by cullin-dependent E3 ubiquitin ligase complexes.
In response to oxidative stress, Nrf2 and p21 Cip1/WAF1 are both upregulated to protect cells from oxidative damage. Nrf2 is constantly ubiquitinated by a Keap1 dimer that interacts with a weak-binding 29DLG motif and a strong-binding 79ETGE motif in Nrf2, resulting in degradation of Nrf2. Modification of the redox-sensitive cysteine residues on Keap1 disrupts the Keap1-29DLG binding, leading to diminished Nrf2 ubiquitination and activation of the antioxidant response. However, the underlying mechanism by which p21 protects cells from oxidative damage remains unclear. Here, we present molecular and genetic evidence suggesting that the antioxidant function of p21 is mediated through activation of Nrf2 by stabilizing the Nrf2 protein. The 154KRR motif in p21 directly interacts with the 29DLG and 79ETGE motifs in Nrf2, and thus, competes with Keap1 for Nrf2 binding, compromising ubiquitination of Nrf2. Furthermore, the physiological significance of our findings was demonstrated in vivo using p21-deficient mice.
Targeting Nrf2 signaling appears to be an attractive approach for the treatment of maladaptive cardiac remodeling and dysfunction; however, pharmacological modulation of the Nrf2 pathway in the cardiovascular system remains to be established. Herein, we report that a novel synthetic triterpenoid derivative, dihydro-CDDO-trifluoroethyl amide (dh404), activates Nrf2 and suppresses oxidative stress in cardiomyocytes. Dh404 interrupted the Keap1-Cul3-Rbx1 E3 ligase complex-mediated Nrf2 ubiquitination and subsequent degradation saturating the binding capacity of Keap1 to Nrf2, thereby rendering more Nrf2 to be translocated into the nuclei to activate Nrf2-driven gene transcription. A mutant Keap1 protein containing a single cysteine-to-serine substitution at residue 151 within the BTB domain of Keap1 was resistant to dh404-induced stabilization of Nrf2 protein. In addition, dh404 did not dissociate the interaction of Nrf2 with the Keap1-Cul3-Rbx1 E3 ligase complex. Thus, it is likely that dh404 inhibits the ability of Keap1-Cul3-Rbx1 E3 ligase complex to target Nrf2 for ubiquitination and degradation via modifying Cys-151 of Keap1 to change the conformation of the complex. Moreover, dh404 was able to stabilize Nrf2 protein, to enhance Nrf2 nuclear translocation, to activate Nrf2-driven transcription, and to suppress angiotensin II (Ang II)-induced oxidative stress in cardiomyocytes. Knockdown of Nrf2 almost blocked the anti-oxidative effect of dh404. Dh404 activated Nrf2 signaling in the heart. Taken together, dh404 appears to be a novel Nrf2 activator with a therapeutic potential for cardiac diseases via suppressing oxidative stress.
A common feature of diverse chemopreventive agents is the ability to activate expression of a genetic program that protects cells from reactive chemical species that, if left unchecked, would cause mutagenic DNA damage. The bZIP transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a key regulator of this cancer-preventive genetic program. Nrf2 is normally sequestered in the cytoplasm by a protein known as Keap1. Chemopreventive agents allow Nrf2 to escape from Keap1-mediated repression, although the molecular mechanism(s) responsible for activation of Nrf2 is not understood. In this report, we demonstrate that Keap1 does not passively sequester Nrf2 in the cytoplasm but actively targets Nrf2 for ubiquitination and degradation by the proteosome under basal culture conditions. We have identified two critical cysteine residues in Keap1, C273 and C288, that are required for Keap1-dependent ubiquitination of Nrf2. Both sulforaphane, a chemopreventive isothiocyanate, and oxidative stress enable Nrf2 to escape Keap1-dependent degradation, leading to stabilization of Nrf2, increased nuclear localization of Nrf2, and activation of Nrf2-dependent cancer-protective genes. We have identified a third cysteine residue in Keap1, C151, that is uniquely required for inhibition of Keap1-dependent degradation of Nrf2 by sulforaphane and oxidative stress. This cysteine residue is also required for a novel posttranslational modification to Keap1 that is induced by oxidative stress. We propose that Keap1 is a component of a novel E3 ubiquitin ligase complex that is specifically targeted for inhibition by both chemopreventive agents and oxidative stress.
Regulation of transcription factor Nrf2 (NF-E2-related factor 2) involves redox-sensitive proteasomal degradation via the E3 ubiquitin ligase Keap1/Cul3. However, Nrf2 is controlled by other mechanisms that have not yet been elucidated. We now show that glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) phosphorylates a group of Ser residues in the Neh6 domain of mouse Nrf2 that overlap with an SCF/β-TrCP destruction motif (DSGIS, residues 334 to 338) and promotes its degradation in a Keap1-independent manner. Nrf2 was stabilized by GSK-3 inhibitors in Keap1-null mouse embryo fibroblasts. Similarly, an Nrf2ΔETGE mutant, which cannot be degraded via Keap1, accumulated when GSK-3 activity was blocked. Phosphorylation of a Ser cluster in the Neh6 domain of Nrf2 stimulated its degradation because a mutant Nrf2ΔETGE 6S/6A protein, lacking these Ser residues, exhibited a longer half-life than Nrf2ΔETGE. Moreover, Nrf2ΔETGE 6S/6A was insensitive to β-TrCP regulation and exhibited lower levels of ubiquitination than Nrf2ΔETGE. GSK-3β enhanced ubiquitination of Nrf2ΔETGE but not that of Nrf2ΔETGE 6S/6A. The Nrf2ΔETGE protein but not Nrf2ΔETGE 6S/6A coimmunoprecipitated with β-TrCP, and this association was enhanced by GSK-3β. Our results show for the first time that Nrf2 is targeted by GSK-3 for SCF/β-TrCP-dependent degradation. We propose a “dual degradation” model to describe the regulation of Nrf2 under different pathophysiological conditions.
Nrf2:INrf2 acts as a sensor for oxidative/electrophilic stress. INrf2 serves as an adaptor to link Nrf2 to the ubiquitin ligase Cul3-Rbx1 complex that ubiquitinate and degrade Nrf2. Under basal conditions, cytosolic INrf2/Cul3-Rbx1 is constantly degrading Nrf2. When a cell encounters stress Nrf2 dissociates from the INrf2 and translocates into the nucleus. Oxidative/electrophilic stress induced modification of INrf2Cysteine151 and/or protein kinase C (PKC)-mediated phosporylation of Nrf2Serine40 controls Nrf2 release from INrf2 followed by stabilization and nuclear translocation of Nrf2. Nrf2 binds to the antioxidant response element (ARE) and activates a myriad of genes that protect cells against oxidative/electrophilic stress and neoplasia. A delayed response of oxidative/electrophilic stress activates GSK-3β that phosphorylates Fyn at unknown threonine residue(s). Phosphorylated Fyn translocates to the nucleus and phosphorylates Nrf2Tyrosine568 that leads to nuclear export and degradation of Nrf2. Prothymosin-α mediated nuclear translocation of INrf2 also degrades nuclear Nrf2. The degradation of Nrf2 both in cytosol and nuclear compartments rapidly brings down its levels to normal resulting in suppression of Nrf2 downstream gene expression. An autoregulatory loop between Nrf2 and INrf2 controls their cellular abundance. Nrf2 regulates INrf2 by controlling its transcription, and INrf2 controls Nrf2 by degrading it. In conclusion, switching on and off of Nrf2 combined with promoting an autoregulatory loop between them regulates activation/deactivation of defensive genes leading to protection of cells against adverse effects of oxidative and electrophilic stress and promote cell survival.
Nrf; INrf2 (keap1); Oxidative/electrophilic stress; Defensive gene expression; Cell signaling; Cell survival
The Nrf2 transcription factor promotes survival following cellular insults that trigger oxidative damage. Nrf2 activity is opposed by the BTB/POZ domain protein Keap1. Keap1 is proposed to regulate Nrf2 activity strictly through its capacity to inhibit Nrf2 nuclear import. Recent work suggests that inhibition of Nrf2 may also depend upon ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis. To address the contribution of Keap1-dependent sequestration versus Nrf2 proteolysis, we identified the E3 ligase that regulates Nrf2 ubiquitination. We demonstrate that Keap1 is not solely a cytosolic anchor; rather, Keap1 is an adaptor that bridges Nrf2 to Cul3. We demonstrate that Cul3-Keap1 complexes regulate Nrf2 polyubiquitination both in vitro and in vivo. Inhibition of either Keap1 or Cul3 increases Nrf2 nuclear accumulation, leading to promiscuous activation of Nrf2-dependent gene expression. Our data demonstrate that Keap1 restrains Nrf2 activity via its capacity to target Nrf2 to a cytoplasmic Cul3-based E3 ligase and suggest a model in which Keap1 coordinately regulates both Nrf2 accumulation and access to target genes.
Nrf2 is the key transcription factor regulating the antioxidant response. When exposed to oxidative stress, Nrf2 translocates to cell nucleus and forms heterodimer with small Maf proteins (sMaf). Nrf2/sMaf heterodimer binds specifically to a cis-acting enhancer called antioxidant response element and initiates transcription of a battery of antioxidant and detoxification genes. Nrf2 possesses a NESzip motif (nuclear export signal co-localized with the leucine zipper (ZIP) domain). Heterodimerization with MafG via ZIP-ZIP binding enhanced Nrf2 nuclear retention, which could be abrogated by the deletion of the ZIP domain or site-directed mutations targeting at the ZIP domain. In addition, dimerization with MafG precluded Nrf2zip/CRM1 binding, suggesting that Nrf2/MafG heterodimerization may simultaneously mask the NESzip motif. MafG-mediated nuclear retention may enable Nrf2 proteins to evade cytosolic proteasomal degradation and consequently stabilize Nrf2 signaling. For the first time, we show that at the physiological condition, the NESzip motif can be switched-off by heterodimerization.
Nrf2; MafG; ZIP; CRM1; FRET
Eukaryote cells balance production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) with levels of anti-oxidant enzyme activity to maintain cellular redox homeostasis. Mitochondria are a major source of ROS, while many anti-oxidant genes are regulated by the Nrf2 transcription factor. Keap1, a redox-regulated substrate adaptor for a cullin-based ubiquitin ligase, targets Nrf2 for proteosome-mediated degradation and represses Nrf2-dependent gene expression. We have previously identified a member of the phosphoglycerate mutase family, PGAM5, as a Keap1-binding protein. In this report, we demonstrate that PGAM5 is targeted to the outer membrane of mitochondria by an N-terminal mitochondrial-localization sequence. Furthermore, we provide evidence that PGAM5 forms a ternary complex containing both Keap1 and Nrf2, in which the dimeric Keap1 protein simultaneously binds both PGAM5 and Nrf2 through their conserved E(S/T)GE motifs. Knockdown of either Keap1 or PGAM5 activates Nrf2-dependent gene expression. We suggest that this ternary complex provides a molecular framework for understanding how nuclear anti-oxidant gene expression is regulated in response to changes in mitochondrial function(s).
Mitochondrial proteins; Anti-oxidant gene expression; Oxidative stress; ubiquitin ligases; chemoprevention
In response to stress, cells can utilize several cellular processes, such as autophagy, which is a bulk-lysosomal degradation pathway, to mitigate damages and increase the chances of cell survival. Deregulation of autophagy causes upregulation of p62 and the formation of p62-containing aggregates, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The Nrf2-Keap1 pathway functions as a critical regulator of the cell's defense mechanism against oxidative stress by controlling the expression of many cellular protective proteins. Under basal conditions, Nrf2 is ubiquitinated by the Keap1-Cul3-E3 ubiquitin ligase complex and targeted to the 26S proteasome for degradation. Upon induction, the activity of the E3 ubiquitin ligase is inhibited through the modification of cysteine residues in Keap1, resulting in the stabilization and activation of Nrf2. In this current study, we identified the direct interaction between p62 and Keap1 and the residues required for the interaction have been mapped to 349-DPSTGE-354 in p62 and three arginines in the Kelch domain of Keap1. Accumulation of endogenous p62 or ectopic expression of p62 sequesters Keap1 into aggregates, resulting in the inhibition of Keap1-mediated Nrf2 ubiquitination and its subsequent degradation by the proteasome. In contrast, overexpression of mutated p62, which loses its ability to interact with Keap1, had no effect on Nrf2 stability, demonstrating that p62-mediated Nrf2 upregulation is Keap1 dependent. These findings demonstrate that autophagy deficiency activates the Nrf2 pathway in a noncanonical cysteine-independent mechanism.
Keap1 is a key regulator of the Nrf2 transcription factor which transactivates the Antioxidant Response Element (ARE) and upregulates numerous proteins involved in antioxidant defense. Under basal conditions, Keap1 targets Nrf2 for ubiquitination and proteolytic degradation and as such is responsible for the rapid turnover of Nrf2. In response to oxidants and electrophiles, Nrf2 is stabilized and accumulates in the nucleus. The mechanism for this effect has been proposed to involve thiol-dependent modulation of Keap1 leading to loss of its ability to negatively regulate Nrf2. We have previously shown that nitric oxide and S-nitrosothiols cause nuclear accumulation of Nrf2 and upregulation of the ARE-regulated gene HO-1. Here we show that nitric oxide and S-nitrosocysteine (CSNO) cause time and dose-dependent Keap1 thiol modification. These studies were carried out in HEK293 and in HEK293 cells overexpressing hemagglutinin-tagged Keap1. Furthermore we demonstrate that in response to CSNO Keap1 accumulates in the nucleus with a time course similar to that of Nrf2.
Nitric Oxide; S-Nitrosocysteine; S-Nitrosylation; Oxidation; Keap1; Nrf2; Nuclear localization
Transcription factor Nrf2 is a major regulator of genes encoding phase 2 detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant stress proteins in response to electrophilic agents and oxidative stress. In the absence of such stimuli, Nrf2 is inactive owing to its cytoplasmic retention by Keap1 and rapid degradation through the proteasome system. We examined the contribution of Keap1 to the rapid turnover of Nrf2 (half-life of less than 20 min) and found that a direct association between Keap1 and Nrf2 is required for Nrf2 degradation. In a series of domain function analyses of Keap1, we found that both the BTB and intervening-region (IVR) domains are crucial for Nrf2 degradation, implying that these two domains act to recruit ubiquitin-proteasome factors. Indeed, Cullin 3 (Cul3), a subunit of the E3 ligase complex, was found to interact specifically with Keap1 in vivo. Keap1 associates with the N-terminal region of Cul3 through the IVR domain and promotes the ubiquitination of Nrf2 in cooperation with the Cul3-Roc1 complex. These results thus provide solid evidence that Keap1 functions as an adaptor of Cul3-based E3 ligase. To our knowledge, Nrf2 and Keap1 are the first reported mammalian substrate and adaptor, respectively, of the Cul3-based E3 ligase system.
The transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a master regulator of a genetic program, termed the phase 2 response, that controls redox homeostasis and participates in multiple aspects of physiology and pathology. Nrf2 protein stability is regulated by two E3 ubiquitin ligase adaptors, Keap1 and β-TrCP, the latter of which was only recently reported. Here, two-dimensional (2D) gel electrophoresis and site-directed mutagenesis allowed us to identify two serines of Nrf2 that are phosphorylated by glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK-3β) in the sequence DSGISL. Nuclear magnetic resonance studies defined key residues of this phosphosequence involved in docking to the WD40 propeller of β-TrCP, through electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions. We also identified three arginine residues of β-TrCP that participate in Nrf2 docking. Intraperitoneal injection of the GSK-3 inhibitor SB216763 led to increased Nrf2 and heme oxygenase-1 levels in liver and hippocampus. Moreover, mice with hippocampal absence of GSK-3β exhibited increased levels of Nrf2 and phase 2 gene products, reduced glutathione, and decreased levels of carbonylated proteins and malondialdehyde. This study establishes the structural parameters of the interaction of Nrf2 with the GSK-3/β-TrCP axis and its functional relevance in the regulation of Nrf2 by the signaling pathways that impinge on GSK-3.
The NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a key transcriptional regulator of antioxidant defense and detoxification. To directly monitor stabilization of Nrf2, we fused its Neh2 domain, responsible for the interaction with its nucleocytoplasmic regulator, Keap1, to firefly luciferase (Neh2-luciferase). We show that Neh2 domain is sufficient for recognition, ubiquitination, and proteasomal degradation of Neh2-luciferase fusion protein. The Neh2-luc reporter system allows direct monitoring of the adaptive response to redox stress and classification of drugs based on the time course of reporter activation. The reporter was used to screen the Spectrum library of 2000 biologically active compounds to identify activators of Nrf2. The most robust and yet nontoxic Nrf2 activators found—nordihydroguaiaretic acid, fisetin, and gedunin—induced astrocyte-dependent neuroprotection from oxidative stress via an Nrf2-dependent mechanism.
Keap1 and Cul3 constitute a unique ubiquitin E3 ligase that degrades Nrf2, a key activator of cytoprotective genes. Upon exposure to oxidants/electrophiles, the enzymatic activity of this ligase complex is inhibited and the complex fails to degrade Nrf2, resulting in the transcriptional activation of Nrf2 target genes. Keap1 possesses several reactive cysteine residues that covalently bond with electrophiles in vitro. To clarify the functional significance of each Keap1 cysteine residue under physiological conditions, we established a transgenic complementation rescue model. The transgenic expression of mutant Keap1(C273A) and/or Keap1(C288A) protein in Keap1 null mice failed to reverse constitutive Nrf2 activation, indicating that cysteine residues at positions 273 and 288 are essential for Keap1 to repress Nrf2 activity in vivo. In contrast, Keap1(C151S) retained repressor activity and mice expressing this molecule were viable. Mouse embryonic fibroblasts from Keap1(C151S) transgenic mice displayed decreased expression of Nrf2 target genes both before and after an electrophilic challenge, suggesting that Cys151 is important in facilitating Nrf2 activation. These results demonstrate critical roles of the cysteine residues in vivo in maintaining Keap1 function, such that Nrf2 is repressed under quiescent conditions and active in response to oxidants/electrophiles.
Nrf2:INrf2(Keap1) are cellular sensors of chemical and radiation induced oxidative and electrophilic stress. Nrf2 is a nuclear transcription factor that controls the expression and coordinated induction of a battery of defensive genes encoding detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant proteins. This is a mechanism of critical importance for cellular protection and cell survival. Nrf2 is retained in the cytoplasm by an inhibitor INrf2. INrf2 functions as an adapter for Cul3/Rbx1 mediated degradation of Nrf2. In response to oxidative/electrophilic stress, Nrf2 is switched on and then off by distinct early and delayed mechanisms. Oxidative/electrophilic modification of INrf2cysteine151 and/or PKC phosphorylation of Nrf2serine40 results in the escape or release of Nrf2 from INrf2. Nrf2 is stabilized and translocates to the nucleus, forms heterodimers with unknown proteins, and binds antioxidant response element (ARE) that leads to coordinated activation of gene expression. It takes less than fifteen minutes from the time of exposure to switch on nuclear import of Nrf2. This is followed by activation of a delayed mechanism that controls switching off of Nrf2 activation of gene expression. GSK3β phosphorylates Fyn at unknown threonine residue(s) leading to nuclear localization of Fyn. Fyn phosphorylates Nrf2tyrosine568 resulting in nuclear export of Nrf2, binding with INrf2 and degradation of Nrf2. The switching on and off of Nrf2 protect cells against free radical damage, prevents apoptosis and promotes cell survival.
Rationale: Oxidative stress is a key contributor in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) pathogenesis caused by cigarette smoking. NRF2, a redox-sensitive transcription factor, dissociates from its inhibitor, KEAP1, to induce antioxidant expression that inhibits oxidative stress.
Objectives: To determine the link between severity of COPD, oxidative stress, and NRF2-dependent antioxidant levels in the peripheral lung tissue of patients with COPD.
Methods: We assessed the expression of NRF2, NRF2-dependent antioxidants, regulators of NRF2 activity, and oxidative damage in non-COPD (smokers and former smokers) and smoker COPD lungs (mild and advanced). Cigarette smoke–exposed human lung epithelial cells (Beas2B) and mice were used to understand the mechanisms.
Measurements and Main Results: When compared with non-COPD lungs, the COPD patient lungs showed (1) marked decline in NRF2-dependent antioxidants and glutathione levels, (2) increased oxidative stress markers, (3) significant decrease in NRF2 protein with no change in NRF2 mRNA levels, and (4) similar KEAP1 but significantly decreased DJ-1 levels (a protein that stabilizes NRF2 protein by impairing KEAP1-dependent proteasomal degradation of NRF2). Exposure of Bea2B cells to cigarette smoke caused oxidative modification and enhanced proteasomal degradation of DJ-1 protein. Disruption of DJ-1 in mouse lungs, mouse embryonic fibroblasts, and Beas2B cells lowered NRF2 protein stability and impaired antioxidant induction in response to cigarette smoke. Interestingly, targeting KEAP1 by siRNA or the small-molecule activator sulforaphane restored induction of NRF2-dependent antioxidants in DJ-1–disrupted cells in response to cigarette smoke.
Conclusions: NRF2-dependent antioxidants and DJ-1 expression was negatively associated with severity of COPD. Therapy directed toward enhancing NRF2-regulated antioxidants may be a novel strategy for attenuating the effects of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of COPD.
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; NRF2; DJ-1; oxidative stress; antioxidants
Keap1/Nrf2 signaling defends organisms against the detrimental effects of oxidative stress, and has been suggested to abate its consequences, including aging-associated diseases like neurodegeneration, chronic inflammation, and cancer. Nrf2 is a prominent target for drug discovery, and Nrf2-activating agents are in clinical trials for cancer chemoprevention. However, aberrant activation of Nrf2 by keap1 somatic mutations may contribute to carcinogenesis and promote resistance to chemotherapy. To evaluate potential functions of Keap1 and Nrf2 for organismal homeostasis, we characterized the pathway in Drosophila. We demonstrate that Keap1/Nrf2 signaling in the fruitfly is activated by oxidants, induces antioxidant and detoxification responses, and confers increased tolerance to oxidative stress. Importantly, keap1 loss-of-function mutations extend the lifespan of Drosophila males, supporting a role for Nrf2 signaling in the regulation of longevity. Interestingly, cancer chemopreventive drugs potently stimulate Drosophila Nrf2 activity, suggesting the fruitfly as an experimental system to identify and characterize such agents.
Nrf2 plays pivotal roles in coordinating the antioxidant response and maintaining redox homeostasis. Nrf2 expression is exquisitely regulated; Nrf2 expression is suppressed under unstressed conditions but strikingly induced under oxidative stress. Previous studies showed that stress-induced Nrf2 up-regulation results from both the inhibition of Nrf2 degradation and enhanced Nrf2 translation. In the present study, we elucidate the mechanism underlying translational control of Nrf2. An internal ribosomal entry site (IRES) was identified within the 5′ untranslated region of human Nrf2 mRNA. The IRESNrf2 contains a highly conserved 18S rRNA binding site (RBS) that is required for internal initiation. This IRESNrf2 also contains a hairpin structured inhibitory element (IE) located upstream of the RBS. Deletion of this IE remarkably enhanced translation. Significantly, treatment of cells with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and phyto-oxidant sulforaphane further stimulated IRESNrf2-mediated translation initiation despite the attenuation of global protein synthesis. Polyribosomal profile assay confirmed that endogenous Nrf2 mRNAs were recruited into polysomal fractions under oxidative stress conditions. Collectively, these data demonstrate that Nrf2 translation is suppressed under normal conditions and specifically enhanced upon oxidant exposure by internal initiation, and provide a mechanistic explanation for translational control of Nrf2 by oxidative stress.
Nrf2-mediated activation of antioxidant response element is a central part of molecular mechanisms governing the protective function of phase II detoxification and antioxidant enzymes against carcinogenesis, oxidative stress and inflammation. Nrf2 is sequestered in the cytoplasm by its repressor, Keap1. We have designed and synthesized novel chalcone derivatives as Nrf2 activators. The potency of these compounds was measured by the expression of Nrf2 dependent antioxidant genes, GCLM, NQO1 and HO1, in human lung epithelial cells; while the cytotoxicity was analyzed using MTT assay. In vivo potency of identified lead compounds to activate Nrf2 was evaluated using mouse model. Our studies showed 2-trifluoromethyl-2’-methoxychalone (2b) to be a potent activator of Nrf2, both, in vitro and in mice. Additional experiments showed that the activation of Nrf2 by this compound is independent of reactive oxygen species or redox changes. We have discussed a quantitative structure-activity relationship and proposed a possible mechanism of Nrf2 activation.