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1.  KPNA6 (Importin α7)-Mediated Nuclear Import of Keap1 Represses the Nrf2-Dependent Antioxidant Response ▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2011;31(9):1800-1811.
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.
PMCID: PMC3133232  PMID: 21383067
2.  Transcription Factor Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant Defense System in the Development of Diabetic Retinopathy 
Increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) is one of the major retinal metabolic abnormalities associated with the development of diabetic retinopathy. NF-E2–related factor 2 (Nrf2), a redox sensitive factor, provides cellular defenses against the cytotoxic ROS. In stress conditions, Nrf2 dissociates from its cytosolic inhibitor, Kelch like-ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), and moves to the nucleus to regulate the transcription of antioxidant genes including the catalytic subunit of glutamylcysteine ligase (GCLC), a rate-limiting reduced glutathione (GSH) biosynthesis enzyme. Our aim is to understand the role of Nrf2-Keap1-GCLC in the development of diabetic retinopathy.
Effect of diabetes on Nrf2-Keap1-GCLC pathway, and subcellular localization of Nrf2 and its binding with Keap1 was investigated in the retina of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. The binding of Nrf2 at GCLC was quantified by chromatin immunoprecipitation technique. The results were confirmed in isolated retinal endothelial cells, and also in the retina from human donors with diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetes increased retinal Nrf2 and its binding with Keap1, but decreased DNA-binding activity of Nrf2 and also its binding at the promoter region of GCLC. Similar impairments in Nrf2-Keap1-GCLC were observed in the endothelial cells exposed to high glucose and in the retina from donors with diabetic retinopathy. In retinal endothelial cells, glucose-induced impairments in Nrf2-GCLC were prevented by Nrf2 inducer tBHQ and also by Keap1-siRNA.
Due to increased binding of Nrf2 with Keap1, its translocation to the nucleus is compromised contributing to the decreased GSH levels. Thus, regulation of Nrf2-Keap1 by pharmacological or molecular means could serve as a potential adjunct therapy to combat oxidative stress and inhibit the development of diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetes increases retinal Nrf2 levels, but decreases its DNA binding activity. Due to increased binding of Nrf2 with its inhibitor, the recruitment of Nrf2 at the promoter of GCLC, a rate-limiting enzyme in GSH biosynthesis, is decreased, resulting in subnormal antioxidant defense system.
PMCID: PMC3676188  PMID: 23633659
antioxidant defense; diabetic retinopathy; Nrf2
3.  Activation of the Nrf2-ARE pathway by siRNA knockdown of Keap1 reduces oxidative stress and provides partial protection from MPTP-mediated neurotoxicity 
Neurotoxicology  2012;33(3):272-279.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that binds to the antioxidant response element, a cis-acting regulatory element that increases expression of detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant proteins. Kelch-like ECH associating protein 1 (Keap1) protein is a negative regulator of Nrf2. Previous work has shown that genetic overexpression of Nrf2 is protective in vitro and in vivo. To modulate the Nrf2-ARE system without overexpressing Nrf2, we used short interfering RNA (siRNA) directed against Keap1. Keap1 siRNA administration in primary astrocytes increased the levels of Nrf2-ARE driven genes and protected against oxidative stress. Moreover, Keap1 siRNA resulted in a persistent upregulation of the Nrf2-ARE pathway and protection against oxidative stress in primary astrocytes. Keap1 siRNA injected into the striatum was also modestly protective against MPTP-induced dopaminergic terminal damage. These data indicate that activation of endogenous intracellular levels of Nrf2 is sufficient to protect in models of oxidative stress and Parkinson's disease.
PMCID: PMC3521526  PMID: 22342405
4.  Enhanced 4-Hydroxynonenal Resistance in KEAP1 Silenced Human Colon Cancer Cells 
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2) is the transcription factor that regulates an array of antioxidant/detoxifying genes for cellular defense. The conformational changes of Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1), a cytosolic repressor protein of NRF2, by various stimuli result in NRF2 liberation and accumulation in the nucleus. In the present study, we aimed to investigate the effect of KEAP1 knockdown on NRF2 target gene expression and its toxicological implication using human colon cancer cells. The stable KEAP1-knockdown HT29 cells exhibit elevated levels of NRF2 and its target gene expressions. In particular, the mRNA levels of aldo-keto reductases (AKR1C1, 1C2, 1C3, 1B1, and 1B10) were substantially increased in KEAP1 silenced HT29 cells. These differential AKRs expressions appear to contribute to protection against oxidative stress. The KEAP1-knockdown cells were relatively more resistant to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE) compared to the control cells. Accordantly, we observed accumulation of 4HNE protein adducts in H2O2- or 4HNE-treated control cells, whereas KEAP1-knockdown cells did not increase adduct formation. The treatment of KEAP1-silenced cells with AKR1C inhibitor flufenamic acid increased 4HNE-induced cellular toxicity and protein adduct formation. Taken together, these results indicate that AKRs, which are NRF2-dependent highly inducible gene clusters, play a role in NRF2-mediated cytoprotection against lipid peroxide toxicity.
PMCID: PMC3674683  PMID: 23766854
5.  Dysfunctional KEAP1–NRF2 Interaction in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e420.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that positively regulates the expression of genes encoding antioxidants, xenobiotic detoxification enzymes, and drug efflux pumps, and confers cytoprotection against oxidative stress and xenobiotics in normal cells. Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1) negatively regulates NRF2 activity by targeting it to proteasomal degradation. Increased expression of cellular antioxidants and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes has been implicated in resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Methods and Findings
Here we report a systematic analysis of the KEAP1 genomic locus in lung cancer patients and cell lines that revealed deletion, insertion, and missense mutations in functionally important domains of KEAP1 and a very high percentage of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2, suggesting that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 in lung cancer is a common event. Sequencing of KEAP1 in 12 cell lines and 54 non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) samples revealed somatic mutations in KEAP1 in a total of six cell lines and ten tumors at a frequency of 50% and 19%, respectively. All the mutations were within highly conserved amino acid residues located in the Kelch or intervening region domain of the KEAP1 protein, suggesting that these mutations would likely abolish KEAP1 repressor activity. Evaluation of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2 revealed allelic losses in 61% of the NSCLC cell lines and 41% of the tumor samples. Decreased KEAP1 activity in cancer cells induced greater nuclear accumulation of NRF2, causing enhanced transcriptional induction of antioxidants, xenobiotic metabolism enzymes, and drug efflux pumps.
This is the first study to our knowledge to demonstrate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC. Loss of KEAP1 function leading to constitutive activation of NRF2-mediated gene expression in cancer suggests that tumor cells manipulate the NRF2 pathway for their survival against chemotherapeutic agents.
Biallelic inactivation ofKEAP1, a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC, is associated with activation of the NRF2 pathway which leads to expression of genes that contribute to resistance against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. More than 150,000 people in the US alone die every year from this disease, which can be split into two basic types—small cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Four out of five lung cancers are NSCLCs, but both types are mainly caused by smoking. Exposure to chemicals in smoke produces changes (or mutations) in the genetic material of the cells lining the lungs that cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. In more than half the people who develop NSCLC, the cancer has spread out of the lungs before it is diagnosed, and therefore can't be removed surgically. Stage IV NSCLC, as this is known, is usually treated with chemotherapy—toxic chemicals that kill the fast-growing cancer cells. However, only 2% of people with stage IV NSCLC are still alive two years after their diagnosis, mainly because their cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy. They do this by making proteins that destroy cancer drugs (detoxification enzymes) or that pump them out of cells (efflux pumps) and by making antioxidants, chemicals that protect cells against the oxidative damage caused by many chemotherapy agents.
Why Was This Study Done?
To improve the outlook for patients with lung cancer, researchers need to discover exactly how cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy drugs. Detoxification enzymes, efflux pumps, and antioxidants normally protect cells from environmental toxins and from oxidants produced by the chemical processes of life. Their production is regulated by nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2). The activity of this transcription factor (a protein that controls the expression of other proteins) is controlled by the protein Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1). KEAP1 holds NRF2 in the cytoplasm of the cell (the cytoplasm surrounds the cell's nucleus, where the genetic material is stored) when no oxidants are present and targets it for destruction. When oxidants are present, KEAP1 no longer interacts with NRF2, which moves into the nucleus and induces the expression of the proteins that protect the cell against oxidants and toxins. In this study, the researchers investigated whether changes in KEAP1 might underlie the drug resistance seen in lung cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers looked carefully at the gene encoding KEAP1 in tissue taken from lung tumors and in several lung cancer cell lines—tumor cells that have been grown in a laboratory. They found mutations in parts of KEAP1 known to be important for its function in half the cell lines and a fifth of the tumor samples. They also found that about half of the samples had lost part of one copy of the KEAP1 gene—cells usually have two copies of each gene. Five of the six tumors with KEAP1 mutations had also lost one copy of KEAP1—geneticists call this biallelic inactivation. This means that these tumors should have no functional KEAP1. When the researchers checked this by staining the tumors for NRF2, they found that the tumor cells had more NRF2 than normal cells and that it accumulated in the nucleus. In addition, the tumor cells made more detoxification enzymes, efflux proteins, and antioxidants than normal cells. Finally, the researchers showed that lung cancer cells with KEAP1 mutations were more resistant to chemotherapy drugs than normal lung cells were.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC and suggest that the loss of KEAP1 activity is one way that lung tumors can increase their NRF2 activity and develop resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. More lung cancer samples need to be examined to confirm this result, and similar studies need to be done in other cancers to see whether loss of KEAP1 activity is a common mechanism by which tumors become resistant to chemotherapy. If such studies confirm that high NRF2 activity (either through mutation or by some other route) is often associated with a poor tumor response to chemotherapy, then the development of NRF2 inhibitors might help to improve treatment outcomes in patients with chemotherapy-resistant tumors.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute information on lung cancer and on cancer treatment
MedlinePlus entries on small cell lung cancer and NSCLC Cancer Research UK information on lung cancer
Wikipedia entries on lung cancer and chemotherapy (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1584412  PMID: 17020408
6.  Nrf2 enhances resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs, the dark side of Nrf2 
Carcinogenesis  2008;29(6):1235-1243.
Drug resistance during chemotherapy is the major obstacle to the successful treatment of many cancers. Here, we report that inhibition of NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) may be a promising strategy to combat chemoresistance. Nrf2 is a critical transcription factor regulating a cellular protective response that defends cells against toxic insults from a broad spectrum of chemicals. Under normal conditions, the low constitutive amount of Nrf2 protein is maintained by the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein1 (Keap1)-mediated ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation system. Upon activation, this Keap1-dependent Nrf2 degradation mechanism is quickly inactivated, resulting in accumulation and activation of the antioxidant response element (ARE)-dependent cytoprotective genes. Since its discovery, Nrf2 has been viewed as a ‘good’ transcription factor that protects us from many diseases. In this study, we demonstrate the dark side of Nrf2: stable overexpression of Nrf2 resulted in enhanced resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic agents including cisplatin, doxorubicin and etoposide. Inversely, downregulation of the Nrf2-dependent response by overexpression of Keap1 or transient transfection of Nrf2–small interfering RNA (siRNA) rendered cancer cells more susceptible to these drugs. Upregulation of Nrf2 by the small chemical tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) also enhanced the resistance of cancer cells, indicating the feasibility of using small chemical inhibitors of Nrf2 as adjuvants to chemotherapy to increase the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents. Furthermore, we provide evidence that the strategy of using Nrf2 inhibitors to increase efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents is not limited to certain cancer types or anticancer drugs and thus can be applied during the course of chemotherapy to treat many cancer types.
PMCID: PMC3312612  PMID: 18413364
7.  Discovery of potent, novel Nrf2 inducers via quantum modeling, virtual screening and in vitro experimental validation 
Chemical biology & drug design  2012;80(6):810-820.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is the master transcription factor of the antioxidant response element (ARE) pathway, coordinating the induction of detoxifying and antioxidant enzymes. Nrf2 is normally sequestered in the cytoplasm by Kelch-like ECH associating protein 1 (Keap1). To identify novel small molecules that will disturb Nrf2:Keap1 binding and promote activation of the Nrf2-ARE pathway, we generated a quantum model based on the structures of known Nrf2-ARE activators. We used the quantum model to perform in silico screening on over 18 million commercially available chemicals to identify the structures predicted to activate the Nrf2-ARE pathway based on the quantum model. The top hits were tested in vitro and half of the predicted hits activated the Nrf2-ARE pathway significantly in primary cell culture. In addition, we identified a new family of Nrf2-ARE activating structures that all have comparable activity to tBHQ and protect against oxidative stress and dopaminergic toxins in vitro. The improved ability to identify potent activators of Nrf2 through the combination of in silico and in vitro screening described here improves the speed and cost associated with screening Nrf2-ARE activating compounds for drug development.
PMCID: PMC3484224  PMID: 22925725
8.  Effect of Graded Nrf2 Activation on Phase-I and -II Drug Metabolizing Enzymes and Transporters in Mouse Liver 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e39006.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that induces a battery of cytoprotective genes in response to oxidative/electrophilic stress. Kelch-like ECH associating protein 1 (Keap1) sequesters Nrf2 in the cytosol. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of Nrf2 in regulating the mRNA of genes encoding drug metabolizing enzymes and xenobiotic transporters. Microarray analysis was performed in livers of Nrf2-null, wild-type, Keap1-knockdown mice with increased Nrf2 activation, and Keap1-hepatocyte knockout mice with maximum Nrf2 activation. In general, Nrf2 did not have a marked effect on uptake transporters, but the mRNAs of organic anion transporting polypeptide 1a1, sodium taurocholate cotransporting polypeptide, and organic anion transporter 2 were decreased with Nrf2 activation. The effect of Nrf2 on cytochrome P450 (Cyp) genes was minimal, with only Cyp2a5, Cyp2c50, Cyp2c54, and Cyp2g1 increased, and Cyp2u1 decreased with enhanced Nrf2 activation. However, Nrf2 increased mRNA of many other phase-I enzymes, such as aldo-keto reductases, carbonyl reductases, and aldehyde dehydrogenase 1. Many genes involved in phase-II drug metabolism were induced by Nrf2, including glutathione S-transferases, UDP- glucuronosyltransferases, and UDP-glucuronic acid synthesis enzymes. Efflux transporters, such as multidrug resistance-associated proteins, breast cancer resistant protein, as well as ATP-binding cassette g5 and g8 were induced by Nrf2. In conclusion, Nrf2 markedly alters hepatic mRNA of a large number of drug metabolizing enzymes and xenobiotic transporters, and thus Nrf2 plays a central role in xenobiotic metabolism and detoxification.
PMCID: PMC3395627  PMID: 22808024
9.  The Keap1–Nrf2 system in cancers: stress response and anabolic metabolism 
Frontiers in Oncology  2012;2:200.
The Keap1–Nrf2 [Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1–nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2] pathway plays a central role in the protection of cells against oxidative and xenobiotic stresses. Nrf2 is a potent transcription activator that recognizes a unique DNA sequence known as the antioxidant response element (ARE). Under normal conditions, Nrf2 binds to Keap1 in the cytoplasm, resulting in proteasomal degradation. Following exposure to electrophiles or reactive oxygen species, Nrf2 becomes stabilized, translocates into the nucleus, and activates the transcription of various cytoprotective genes. Increasing attention has been paid to the role of Nrf2 in cancer cells because the constitutive stabilization of Nrf2 has been observed in many human cancers with poor prognosis. Recent studies have shown that the antioxidant and detoxification activities of Nrf2 confer chemo- and radio-resistance to cancer cells. In this review, we provide an overview of the Keap1–Nrf2 system and discuss its role under physiological and pathological conditions, including cancers. We also introduce the results of our recent study describing Nrf2 function in the metabolism of cancer cells. Nrf2 likely confers a growth advantage to cancer cells through enhancing cytoprotection and anabolism. Finally, we discuss the possible impact of Nrf2 inhibitors on cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3530133  PMID: 23272301
stress response; redox homeostasis; transcription; purine nucleotide; glutathione
10.  CAND1-Mediated Substrate Adaptor Recycling Is Required for Efficient Repression of Nrf2 by Keap1 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2006;26(4):1235-1244.
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.
PMCID: PMC1367193  PMID: 16449638
11.  Regulatory Nexus of Synthesis and Degradation Deciphers Cellular Nrf2 Expression Levels 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2013;33(12):2402-2412.
Transcription factor Nrf2 (NF-E2-related factor 2) is essential for oxidative and electrophilic stress responses. While it has been well characterized that Nrf2 activity is tightly regulated at the protein level through proteasomal degradation via Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1)-mediated ubiquitination, not much attention has been paid to the supply side of Nrf2, especially regulation of Nrf2 gene transcription. Here we report that manipulation of Nrf2 transcription is effective in changing the final Nrf2 protein level and activity of cellular defense against oxidative stress even in the presence of Keap1 and under efficient Nrf2 degradation, determined using genetically engineered mouse models. In excellent agreement with this finding, we found that minor A/A homozygotes of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the human NRF2 upstream promoter region (rs6721961) exhibited significantly diminished NRF2 gene expression and, consequently, an increased risk of lung cancer, especially those who had ever smoked. Our results support the notion that in addition to control over proteasomal degradation and derepression from degradation/repression, the transcriptional level of the Nrf2 gene acts as another important regulatory point to define cellular Nrf2 levels. These results thus verify the critical importance of human SNPs that influence the levels of transcription of the NRF2 gene for future personalized medicine.
PMCID: PMC3700104  PMID: 23572560
12.  Keap1 Is a Redox-Regulated Substrate Adaptor Protein for a Cul3-Dependent Ubiquitin Ligase Complex 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(24):10941-10953.
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.
PMCID: PMC533977  PMID: 15572695
13.  Small Molecule Modulators of Keap1-Nrf2-ARE Pathway as Potential Preventive and Therapeutic Agents$ 
Medicinal Research Reviews  2012;32(4):687-726.
Keap1-Nrf2-ARE pathway represents one of the most important cellular defense mechanisms against oxidative stress and xenobiotic damage. Activation of Nrf2 signaling induces the transcriptional regulation of ARE-dependent expression of various detoxifying and antioxidant defense enzymes and proteins. Keap1-Nrf2-ARE signaling has become an attractive target for the prevention and treatment of oxidative stress-related diseases and conditions including cancer, neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, metabolic and inflammatory diseases. Over the last few decades, numerous Nrf2 inducers have been developed and some of them are currently undergoing clinical trials. Recently, over-activation of Nrf2 has been implicated in cancer progression as well as in drug resistance to cancer chemotherapy. Thus, Nrf2 inhibitors could potentially be used to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapy. Herein, we review the signaling mechanism of Keap1-Nrf2-ARE pathway, its disease relevance, and currently known classes of small molecule modulators. We also discuss several aspects of Keap1-Nrf2 interaction, Nrf2-based peptide inhibitor design, and the screening assays currently used for the discovery of direct inhibitors of Keap1-Nrf2 interaction.
PMCID: PMC3393814  PMID: 22549716
Oxidative stress; Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1); Nrf2 (Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2); ARE (antioxidant response element); antioxidant inflammation modulator (AIM)
14.  Emerging Roles of Nrf2 and Phase II Antioxidant Enzymes in Neuroprotection 
Progress in neurobiology  2012;100:30-47.
Phase II metabolic enzymes are a battery of critical proteins that detoxify xenobiotics by increasing their hydrophilicity and enhancing their disposal. These enzymes have long been studied for their preventative and protective effects against mutagens and carcinogens and for their regulation via the Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH associated protein 1) / Nrf2 (Nuclear factor erythroid 2 related factor 2) / ARE (antioxidant response elements) pathway. Recently, a series of studies have reported the altered expression of phase II genes in postmortem tissue of patients with various neurological diseases. These observations hint at a role for phase II enzymes in the evolution of such conditions. Furthermore, promising findings reveal that overexpression of phase II genes, either by genetic or chemical approaches, confers neuroprotection in vitro and in vivo. Therefore, there is a need to summarize the current literature on phase II genes in the central nervous system (CNS). This should help guide future studies on phase II genes as therapeutic targets in neurological diseases. In this review, we first briefly introduce the concept of phase I, II and III enzymes, with a special focus on phase II enzymes. We then discuss their expression regulation, their inducers and executors. Following this background, we expand our discussion to the neuroprotective effects of phase II enzymes and the potential application of Nrf2 inducers to the treatment of neurological diseases.
PMCID: PMC3623606  PMID: 23025925
phase II genes; Keap1/Nrf2/ARE; inducers; effectors; acute neurological diseases; neurodegenerative diseases
15.  MiR-28 regulates Nrf2 expression through a Keap1-independent mechanism 
NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is an important transcription factor involved in antioxidant response. Nrf2 binds antioxidant response elements (ARE) within promoters of genes encoding detoxification enzymes (e.g., NAD (P) H-quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1)) leading to their transcriptional activation. Nrf2 function is regulated post-translationally by its negative regulator Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1) that binds Nrf2 and induces cytoplasmic Nrf2 degradation. Our present studies provide new evidence that Nrf2 expression can be regulated by a Keap1-independent mechanism. Here, we utilized breast epithelial cells to explore the impact of microRNA (miRNA) on Nrf2 expression. We found that Nrf2 mRNA levels are reversibly correlated with miR-28 expression and that ectopic expression of miR-28 alone reduces Nrf2 mRNA and protein levels. We further investigated the molecular mechanisms by which miR-28 inhibits Nrf2 mRNA expression. Initially, the ability of miR-28 to regulate the 3′ untranslated region (3′UTR) of Nrf2 mRNA was evaluated via luciferase reporter assay. We observed that miR-28 reduces wild-type Nrf2 3′UTR luciferase reporter activity and this repression is eliminated upon mutation of the miR-28 targeting seed sequence within the Nrf2 3′UTR. Moreover, over-expression of miR-28 decreased endogenous Nrf2 mRNA and protein expression. We also explored the impact of miR-28 on Keap1-Nrf2 interactions and found that miR-28 overexpression does not alter Keap1 protein levels and has no effect on the interaction of Keap1 and Nrf2. Our findings, that miR-28 targets the 3′UTR of Nrf2 mRNA and decreases Nrf2 expression, suggest that this miRNA is involved in the regulation of Nrf2 expression in breast epithelial cells.
PMCID: PMC3752913  PMID: 21638050
Mammary epithelial cells; miR-28; Nrf2; Chemoprevention
16.  Analysis of dimerization of BTB-IVR domains of Keap1 and its interaction with Cul3, by molecular modeling 
Bioinformation  2013;9(9):450-455.
Oxidative damage has been associated with various neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Alzheimer's disease, as well as non-neurodegenerative conditions such as cancer and heart disease. The Keap1-Nrf2 system plays a central role in the protection of cells against oxidative and xenobiotic stress. The Nrf2 transcription function and its degradation by the proteasomal pathway (Keap1-Nrf2-Cul3-Roc1 complex) are regulated by the cytoplasmic repressor protein, Keap1 which possesses BTB, BACK (IVR region) and Kelch domains. The BTB-BACK domains are important for Keap1 homo-dimerization as well as to interact with Cullin-3 for Nrf2 degradation. The crystal structure of the Keap1-Kelch domain is known; however, that of the BTB-BACK domains are not yet determined. We present here, through molecular modeling studies, the analysis of Keap1-BTB dimerization, and of BTB-BACK domains role in complex with Cul3. The electrostatic charge distribution at the BTB dimer interface of Keap1 is significantly different from other known BTB containing protein structures. Another intriguing feature is also observed that the non-conserved residues at the BTB-BACK-Cul3 interface region may play critical role for differentiating Cul3 recognition by Keap1 from other adaptor proteins for their specific substrates proteasomal degradation.
PMCID: PMC3705614  PMID: 23847398
Nrf2; Keap1; BTB and IVR/BACK domains; Cul3; molecular modeling
17.  Arsenic-Mediated Activation of the Nrf2-Keap1 Antioxidant Pathway 
Arsenic is present in the environment and has become a worldwide health concern due to its toxicity and carcinogenicity. However, the specific mechanism(s) by which arsenic elicits its toxic effects has yet to be fully elucidated. The transcription factor nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) has been recognized as the master regulator of a cellular defense mechanism against toxic insults. This review highlights studies demonstrating that arsenic activates the Nrf2-Keap1 antioxidant pathway by a distinct mechanism from that of natural compounds such as sulforaphane (SF) found in broccoli sprouts or tert-butylhyrdoquinone (tBHQ), a natural antioxidant commonly used as a food preservative. Evidence also suggests that arsenic prolongs Nrf2 activation and may mimic constitutive activation of Nrf2, which has been found in several human cancers due to disruption of the Nrf2-Keap1 axis. The current literature strongly suggests that activation of Nrf2 by arsenic potentially contributes to, rather than protects against, arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity. The mechanism(s) by which known Nrf2 activators, such as the natural chemopreventive compounds SF and lipoic acid, protect against the deleterious effects caused by arsenic will also be discussed. These findings will provide insight to further understand how arsenic promotes a prolonged Nrf2 response, which will lead to the identification of novel molecular markers and development of rational therapies for the prevention or intervention of arsenic-induced diseases. The National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) award has provided the opportunity to review the progress both in the fields of arsenic toxicology and Nrf2 biology. Much of the funding has led to (1) the novel discovery that arsenic activates the Nrf2 pathway by a mechanism different to that of other Nrf2 activators, such as sulforaphane and tert-butylhydroquinone, (2) activation of Nrf2 by chemopreventive compounds protects against arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity both in vitro and in vivo, (3) constitutive activation of Nrf2 by disrupting Keap1-mediated negative regulation contributes to cancer and chemoresistance, (4) p62-mediated sequestration of Keap1 activates the Nrf2 pathway, and (5) arsenic-mediated Nrf2 activation may be through a p62-dependent mechanism. All of these findings have been published and are discussed in this review. This award has laid the foundation for my laboratory to further investigate the molecular mechanism(s) that regulate the Nrf2 pathway and how it may play an integral role in arsenic toxicity. Moreover, understanding the biology behind arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity will help in the discovery of potential strategies to prevent or control arsenic-mediated adverse effects.
PMCID: PMC3725327  PMID: 23188707
Nrf2; Arsenic; Keap1; Oxidative stress; p62; Autophagy; Chemoprevention
18.  RNAi mediated silencing of Nrf2 gene expression in non-small cell lung cancer inhibits tumor growth and increases efficacy of chemotherapy 
Cancer research  2008;68(19):7975-7984.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor-2 (Nrf2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that regulates the expression of electrophile and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes and efflux proteins, which confer cytoprotection against oxidative stress and apoptosis in normal cells. Loss of function mutations in the Nrf2 inhibitor, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein (Keap1), results in constitutive activation of Nrf2 function in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In this study, we demonstrate that constitutive activation of Nrf2 in lung cancer cells promotes tumorigenicity and contributes to chemoresistance by upregulation of glutathione, thioredoxin and the drug efflux pathways involved in detoxification of electrophiles and broad spectrum of drugs. RNAi-mediated reduction of Nrf2 expression in lung cancer cells induces generation of reactive oxygen species, suppresses tumor growth and results in increased sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drug induced cell death in vitro and in vivo. Inhibiting Nrf2 expression using naked siRNA duplexes in combination with carboplatin significantly inhibits tumor growth in a subcutaneous model of lung cancer. Thus, targeting Nrf2 activity in lung cancers, particularly those with Keap1 mutations, could be a promising strategy to inhibit tumor growth and circumvent chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC3070411  PMID: 18829555
Nrf2; Keap1; lung cancer; drug resistance; ROS; RNAi
19.  Regulatory Role of KEAP1 and NRF2 in PPARγ Expression and Chemoresistance in Human Non-small Cell Lung Carcinoma Cells 
Free radical biology & medicine  2012;53(4):758-768.
The nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2 (NRF2) serves as a master regulator in cellular defense against oxidative stress and chemical detoxification. However, persistent activation of NRF2 resulting from mutations of NRF2 and/or downregulation or mutations of its suppressor Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1) are associated with tumorigenicity and chemoresistance of non-small-cell lung carcinomas (NSCLCs). Thus, inhibiting NRF2-mediated adaptive antioxidant response is widely considered a promising strategy to prevent tumor growth and reverse chemoresistance in NSCLCs. Unexpectedly, stable knockdown of KEAP1 by lentiviral shRNA sensitized three independent NSCLC cell lines (A549, HTB-178 and HTB-182) to multiple chemotherapeutic agents, including arsenic trioxide (As2O3), etoposide and doxorubicin, despite moderately increased NRF2 levels. In lung adenocarcinoma epithelial A549 cells, silencing of KEAP1 augmented the expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) and genes associated with cell differentiation, including E-Cadherin and Gelsolin. In addition, KEAP1-knockdown A549 cells displayed attenuated expression of proto-oncogene Cyclin D1 and markers for cancer stem cells (CSCs), and reduced non-adherent sphere formation. Moreover, deficiency of KEAP1 led to elevated induction of PPARγ in response to As2O3. Pretreatment of A549 cells with PPARγ agonists activated PPARγ and augmented the cytotoxicity of As2O3. A mathematical model was formulated to advance a hypothesis that differential regulation of PPARγ and detoxification enzymes by KEAP1 and NRF2 may underpin the observed landscape changes in chemo-sensitivity. Collectively, suppression of KEAP1 expression in human NSCLC cells resulted in sensitization to chemotherapeutic agents, which may be attributed to activation of PPARγ and subsequent alterations in cell differentiation and CSC abundance.
PMCID: PMC3418425  PMID: 22684020
20.  Keap1 Controls Postinduction Repression of the Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant Response by Escorting Nuclear Export of Nrf2▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(18):6334-6349.
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.
PMCID: PMC2099624  PMID: 17636022
21.  Nrf2:INrf2(Keap1) Signaling in Oxidative Stress 
Free radical biology & medicine  2009;47(9):1304-1309.
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.
PMCID: PMC2763938  PMID: 19666107
22.  Dual Roles of Nrf2 in Cancer 
In response to oxidative stress, the transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) controls the fate of cells through transcriptional upregulation of antioxidant response element (ARE)-bearing genes, including those encoding endogenous antioxidants, phase II detoxifying enzymes, and transporters. Expression of the Nrf2-dependent proteins is critical for ameliorating or eliminating toxicants/carcinogens to maintain cellular redox homeostasis. As a result, activation of the Nrf2 pathway, by naturally-occurring compounds or synthetic chemicals at sub-toxic doses, confers protection against subsequent toxic/carcinogenic exposure. Thus, the use of dietary compounds or synthetic chemicals to boost the Nrf2-dependent adaptive response to counteract environmental insults has emerged to be a promising strategy for cancer prevention. Interestingly, recent emerging data has revealed the “dark” side of Nrf2. Nrf2 and its downstream genes are overexpressed in many cancer cell lines and human cancer tissues, giving cancer cells an advantage for survival and growth. Furthermore, Nrf2 is upregulated in resistant cancer cells and is thought to be responsible for acquired chemoresistance. Therefore, it may be necessary to inhibit the Nrf2 pathway during chemotherapy. This review is primarily focused on the role of Nrf2 in cancer, with emphasis on the recent findings indicating the cancer promoting function of Nrf2 and its role in acquired chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC2652397  PMID: 18838122
23.  The Keap1-BTB Protein Is an Adaptor That Bridges Nrf2 to a Cul3-Based E3 Ligase: Oxidative Stress Sensing by a Cul3-Keap1 Ligase 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(19):8477-8486.
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.
PMCID: PMC516753  PMID: 15367669
24.  Optimization of fluorescently labeled Nrf2 peptide probes and the development of a fluorescence polarization assay for the discovery of inhibitors of Keap1-Nrf2 interaction 
Journal of Biomolecular Screening  2011;17(4):435-447.
Activation of the antioxidant response element (ARE) up-regulates enzymes involved in detoxification of electrophiles and reactive oxygen species. The induction of ARE genes is regulated by the interaction between redox sensor protein, Keap1, and the transcription factor, Nrf2. Fluorescently labeled Nrf2 peptides containing the ETGE motif were synthesized and optimized as tracers in the development of a fluorescence polarization (FP) assay to identify small molecule inhibitors of Keap1-Nrf2 interaction. The tracers were optimized to increase the dynamic range of the assay and their binding affinities to the Keap1 Kelch domain. The binding affinities of Nrf2 peptide inhibitors obtained in our FP assay using FITC-9mer Nrf2 peptide amide as the probe were in good agreement with those obtained previously by a surface plasmon resonance (SPR) assay. The FP assay exhibits considerable tolerance towards DMSO and produced a Z'-factor greater than 0.6 in a 384-well format. Further optimization of the probe led to cyanine-labeled 9mer Nrf2 peptide amide, which can be used along with the FITC-9mer Nrf2 peptide amide in a high throughput screening (HTS) assay to discover small molecule inhibitors of Keap1-Nrf2 interaction.
PMCID: PMC3309107  PMID: 22156223
Nrf2; Keap1; ARE; fluorescence polarization; high throughput screening; oxidative response
25.  Oxidative Stress Sensor Keap1 Functions as an Adaptor for Cul3-Based E3 Ligase To Regulate Proteasomal Degradation of Nrf2 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(16):7130-7139.
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.
PMCID: PMC479737  PMID: 15282312

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