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1.  Activation of Nrf2 by arsenite and monomethylarsonous acid is independent of Keap1-C151: enhanced Keap1-Cul3 interaction 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2008;230(3):383-389.
Drinking water contaminated with arsenic, a human carcinogen, is a worldwide health issue. An understanding of cellular signaling events in response to arsenic exposure and rational designing of strategies to reduce arsenic damages by modulating signaling events are important to fight against arsenic-induced diseases. Previously, we reported that activation of the Nrf2-mediated cellular defense pathway confers protection against toxic effects induced by sodium arsenite [As(III)] or monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)]. Paradoxically, arsenic has been reported to induce the Nrf2-dependent signaling pathway. Here, we report the unique mechanism of Nrf2 induction by arsenic. Similar to tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) or sulforaphane (SF), arsenic induced the Nrf2-dependent response through enhancing Nrf2 protein levels by inhibiting Nrf2 ubiquitination and degradation. However, the detailed action of arsenic in Nrf2 induction is different from that of tBHQ or SF. Arsenic markedly enhanced the interaction between Keap1 and Cul3, subunits of the E3 ubiquitin ligase for Nrf2, which led to impaired dynamic assembly/disassembly of the E3 ubiquitin ligase and thus decreased its ligase activity. Furthermore, induction of Nrf2 by arsenic is independent of the previously identified C151 residue in Keap1 that is required for Nrf2 activation by tBHQ or SF. Distinct mechanisms of Nrf2 activation by seemingly harmful and beneficial reagents provide a molecular basis to design Nrf2-activating agents for therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC2610481  PMID: 18417180
2.  Tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) protects hepatocytes against lipotoxicity via inducing autophagy independently of Nrf2 activation 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2013;1841(1):10.1016/j.bbalip.2013.09.004.
Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) induce hepatocyte cell death, wherein oxidative stress is mechanistically involved. Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) is a master transcriptional regulator of cellular antioxidant defense enzymes. Therefore, Nrf2 activation is regarded as an effective strategy against oxidative stress-triggered cellular damage. In this study, tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), a widely used Nrf2 activator, was initially employed to investigate the potential protective role of Nrf2 activation in SFAs-induced hepatoxicity. As expected, SFAs-induced hepatocyte cell death was prevented by tBHQ in both AML-12 mouse hepatocytes and HepG2 human hepatoma cells. However, the protective effect of tBHQ is Nrf2-independent, because the siRNA-mediated Nrf2 silencing did not abrogate tBHQ-conferred protection. Alternatively, our results revealed that autophagy activation was critically involved in the protective effect of tBHQ on lipotoxicity. tBHQ induced autophagy activation and autophagy inhibitors abolished tBHQ’s protection. The induction of autophagy by tBHQ exposure was demonstrated by the increased accumulation of LC3 puncta, LC3-II conversion, and autophagic flux (LC3-II conversion in the presence of proteolysis inhibitors). Subsequent mechanistic investigation discovered that tBHQ exposure activated AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and siRNA-mediated AMPK gene silencing abolished tBHQ-induced autophagy activation, indicating that AMPK is critically involved in tBHQ-triggered autophagy induction. Furthermore, our study provided evidence that tBHQ-induced autophagy activation is required for its Nrf2-activating property. Collectively, our data uncover a novel mechanism for tBHQ in protecting hepatocytes against SFAs-induced lipotoxicity. tBHQ-triggered autophagy induction contributes not only to its hepatoprotective effect, but also to its Nrf2-activating property.
PMCID: PMC3884638  PMID: 24055888
Tert-Butylhydroquinone; autophagy; SFAs; lipotoxicity; AMPK; Nrf2
3.  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
4.  Arsenic Inhibits Autophagic Flux, Activating the Nrf2-Keap1 Pathway in a p62-Dependent Manner 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2013;33(12):2436-2446.
The Nrf2-Keap1 signaling pathway is a protective mechanism promoting cell survival. Activation of the Nrf2 pathway by natural compounds has been proven to be an effective strategy for chemoprevention. Interestingly, a cancer-promoting function of Nrf2 has recently been observed in many types of tumors due to deregulation of the Nrf2-Keap1 axis, which leads to constitutive activation of Nrf2. Here, we report a novel mechanism of Nrf2 activation by arsenic that is distinct from that of chemopreventive compounds. Arsenic deregulates the autophagic pathway through blockage of autophagic flux, resulting in accumulation of autophagosomes and sequestration of p62, Keap1, and LC3. Thus, arsenic activates Nrf2 through a noncanonical mechanism (p62 dependent), leading to a chronic, sustained activation of Nrf2. In contrast, activation of Nrf2 by sulforaphane (SF) and tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) depends upon Keap1-C151 and not p62 (the canonical mechanism). More importantly, SF and tBHQ do not have any effect on autophagy. In fact, SF and tBHQ alleviate arsenic-mediated deregulation of autophagy. Collectively, these findings provide evidence that arsenic causes prolonged activation of Nrf2 through autophagy dysfunction, possibly providing a scenario similar to that of constitutive activation of Nrf2 found in certain human cancers. This may represent a previously unrecognized mechanism underlying arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity in humans.
PMCID: PMC3700105  PMID: 23589329
5.  Deficiency in the nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 renders pancreatic β-cells vulnerable to arsenic-induced cell damage 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2012;264(3):315-323.
Chronic human exposure to inorganic arsenic (iAs), a potent environmental oxidative stressor, is associated with increased prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, where impairment of pancreatic β-cell function is a key pathogenic factor. Nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a central transcription factor regulating cellular adaptive response to oxidative stress. However, persistent activation of Nrf2 in response to chronic oxidative stress, including inorganic arsenite (iAs3+) exposure, blunts glucose-triggered reactive oxygen species (ROS) signaling and impairs glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS). In the current study, we found that MIN6 pancreatic β-cells with stable knockdown of Nrf2 (Nrf2-KD) by lentiviral shRNA and pancreatic islets isolated from Nrf2-knockout (Nrf2−/−) mice exhibited reduced expression of several antioxidant and detoxification enzymes in response to acute iAs3+ exposure. As a result, Nrf2-KD MIN6 cells and Nrf2−/− islets were more susceptible to iAs3+ and monomethylarsonous acid (MMA3+)-induced cell damage, as measured by decreased cell viability, augmented apoptosis and morphological change. Pretreatment of MIN6 cells with Nrf2 activator tert-butylhydroquinone protected the cells from iAs3+-induced cell damage in an Nrf2-dependent fashion. In contrast, antioxidant N-acetyl cysteine protected Nrf2-KD MIN6 cells against acute cytotoxicity of iAs3+. The present study demonstrates that Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response is critical in the pancreatic β-cell defense mechanism against acute cytotoxicity by arsenic. The findings here, combined with our previous results on the inhibitory effect of antioxidants on ROS signaling and GSIS, suggest that Nrf2 plays paradoxical roles in pancreatic β-cell dysfunction induced by environmental arsenic exposure.
PMCID: PMC3478490  PMID: 23000044
arsenic; diabetes; pancreatic β-cell; islets; Nrf2; oxidative stress; cytotoxicity
6.  Induction of the Nrf2-driven antioxidant response by tert-butylhydroquinone prevents ethanol-induced apoptosis in cranial neural crest cells 
Biochemical pharmacology  2010;80(1):144-149.
Previous studies have shown that ethanol exposure causes apoptosis in cranial neural crest cells (NCCs), an ethanol-sensitive cell population implicated in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Additionally, induction of endogenous antioxidants through activation of nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) has been shown to prevent oxidative stress and apoptosis in ethanol-exposed mouse embryos. The objective of this study was to test whether tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), an Nrf2 inducer, can protect NCCs against ethanol-induced apoptosis. Ethanol exposure was shown to cause a moderate increase in the protein expression of Nrf2 and its downstream antioxidants in the NCCs. Treatment of NCCs with tBHQ alone significantly increased the protein expression of Nrf2 and its downstream antioxidants and also significantly increased the activities of the antioxidant enzymes. In NCCs exposed to ethanol, the tBHQ-mediated antioxidant response prevented oxidative stress and apoptosis. These results clearly demonstrate that activation of Nrf2 signaling confers protection against ethanol-induced apoptosis in NCCs.
PMCID: PMC2860686  PMID: 20223225
Neural crest cells; Nrf2; ethanol; antioxidant; apoptosis
7.  The Nrf2 Activator, tBHQ, Differentially Affects Early Events Following Stimulation of Jurkat Cells 
Toxicological Sciences  2013;136(1):63-71.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that is activated by cellular stresses, such as oxidative compounds. After activation, Nrf2 induces transcription of its target genes, many of which have cytoprotective functions. Previously, we have shown that activation of Nrf2 by tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) skews murine CD4+ T-cell differentiation. Although the role of Nrf2 in murine T cells is somewhat characterized, it is largely uncharacterized in human T cells. Therefore, the aim of the current studies was to characterize the effects of the Nrf2 activator, tBHQ, on the early events of human CD4+ T-cell activation. Pretreatment of Jurkat T cells with tBHQ, prior to activation with anti-CD3/anti-CD28, diminished the production of interleukin-2 (IL-2) at both the transcript and protein levels. Similarly, the expression of CD25 also diminished, albeit to a lesser degree than IL-2, after pretreatment with tBHQ. The decrease in IL-2 production was not due to decreased nuclear translocation of c-fos or c-jun. Although tBHQ caused both a delay and a decrease in Ca2+ influx in activated Jurkat cells, no decrease in nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) DNA binding or transcriptional activity was observed. In contrast to NFAT, tBHQ significantly decreased NFκB transcriptional activity. Collectively, our studies show that the Nrf2 activator, tBHQ, inhibits IL-2 and CD25 expression, which correlates with decreased NFκB transcriptional activity in activated Jurkat cells. Overall, our studies suggest that Nrf2 represents a novel mechanism for the regulation of both human and mouse T cell function.
PMCID: PMC3829568  PMID: 23945499
Nrf2; IL-2; calcium; NFĸB; tBHQ; T cell.
8.  Tert-Butylhydroquinone Alleviates Early Brain Injury and Cognitive Dysfunction after Experimental Subarachnoid Hemorrhage: Role of Keap1/Nrf2/ARE Pathway 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e97685.
Tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), an Nrf2 activator, has demonstrated neuroprotection against brain trauma and ischemic stroke in vivo. However, little work has been done with respect to its effect on early brain injury (EBI) after subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). At the same time, as an oral medication, it may have extensive clinical applications for the treatment of SAH-induced cognitive dysfunction. This study was undertaken to evaluate the influence of tBHQ on EBI, secondary deficits of learning and memory, and the Keap1/Nrf2/ARE pathway in a rat SAH model. SD rats were divided into four groups: (1) Control group (n = 40); (2) SAH group (n = 40); (3) SAH+vehicle group (n = 40); and (4) SAH+tBHQ group (n = 40). All SAH animals were subjected to injection of autologous blood into the prechiasmatic cistern once in 20 s. In SAH+tBHQ group, tBHQ was administered via oral gavage at a dose of 12.5 mg/kg at 2 h, 12 h, 24 h, and 36 h after SAH. In the first set of experiments, brain samples were extracted and evaluated 48 h after SAH. In the second set of experiments, changes in cognition and memory were investigated in a Morris water maze. Results shows that administration of tBHQ after SAH significantly ameliorated EBI-related problems, such as brain edema, blood-brain barrier (BBB) impairment, clinical behavior deficits, cortical apoptosis, and neurodegeneration. Learning deficits induced by SAH was markedly alleviated after tBHQ therapy. Treatment with tBHQ markedly up-regulated the expression of Keap1, Nrf2, HO-1, NQO1, and GSTα1 after SAH. In conclusion, the administration of tBHQ abated the development of EBI and cognitive dysfunction in this SAH model. Its action was probably mediated by activation of the Keap1/Nrf2/ARE pathway.
PMCID: PMC4029824  PMID: 24848277
9.  Cross-Regulations among NRFs and KEAP1 and Effects of their Silencing on Arsenic-Induced Antioxidant Response and Cytotoxicity in Human Keratinocytes 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2012;120(4):583-589.
Background: Nuclear factor E2-related factors (NRFs), including NRF2 and NRF1, play critical roles in mediating the cellular adaptive response to oxidative stress. Human exposure to inorganic arsenic, a potent oxidative stressor, causes various dermal disorders, including hyperkeratosis and skin cancer.
Objective: We investigated the cross-regulations among NRF2, NRF1, and KEAP1, a cullin-3–adapter protein that allows NRF2 to be ubiquinated and degraded by the proteasome complex, in arsenic-induced antioxidant responses.
Results: In human keratinocyte HaCaT cells, selective knockdown (KD) of NRF2 by lentiviral short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) significantly reduced the expression of many antioxidant enzymes and sensitized the cells to acute cytotoxicity of inorganic arsenite (iAs3+). In contrast, silencing KEAP1 led to a dramatic resistance to iAs3+-induced apoptosis. Pretreatment of HaCaT cells with NRF2 activators, such as tert-butylhydroquinone, protects the cells against acute iAs3+ toxicity in an NRF2-dependent fashion. Consistent with the negative regulatory role of KEAP1 in NRF2 activation, KEAP1-KD cells exhibited enhanced transcriptional activity of NRF2 under nonstressed conditions. However, deficiency in KEAP1 did not facilitate induction of NRF2-target genes by iAs3+. In addition, NRF2 silencing reduced the expression of KEAP1 at transcription and protein levels but increased the protein expression of NRF1 under the iAs3+-exposed condition. In contrast, silencing KEAP1 augmented protein accumulation of NRF2 under basal and iAs3+-exposed conditions, whereas the iAs3+-induced protein accumulation of NRF1 was attenuated in KEAP1-KD cells.
Conclusions: Our studies suggest that NRF2, KEAP1, and NRF1 are coordinately involved in the regulation of the cellular adaptive response to iAs3+-induced oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC3339469  PMID: 22476201
antioxidant response; arsenic; cytotoxicity; KEAP1; keratinocyte; NRF1; NRF2
10.  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
11.  Oridonin Confers Protection against Arsenic-Induced Toxicity through Activation of the Nrf2-Mediated Defensive Response 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2008;116(9):1154-1161.
Groundwater contaminated with arsenic imposes a big challenge to human health worldwide. Using natural compounds to subvert the detrimental effects of arsenic represents an attractive strategy. The transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a critical regulator of the cellular antioxidant response and xenobiotic metabolism. Recently, activation of the Nrf2 signaling pathway has been reported to confer protection against arsenic-induced toxicity in a cell culture model.
The goal of the present work was to identify a potent Nrf2 activator from plants as a chemopreventive compound and to demonstrate the efficacy of the compound in battling arsenic-induced toxicity.
Oridonin activated the Nrf2 signaling pathway at a low subtoxic dose and was able to stabilize Nrf2 by blocking Nrf2 ubiquitination and degradation, leading to accumulation of the Nrf2 protein and activation of the Nrf2-dependent cytoprotective response. Pretreatment of UROtsa cells with 1.4 μM oridonin significantly enhanced the cellular redox capacity, reduced formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and improved cell survival after arsenic challenge.
We identified oridonin as representing a novel class of Nrf2 activators and illustrated the mechanism by which the Nrf2 pathway is activated. Furthermore, we demonstrated the feasibility of using natural compounds targeting Nrf2 as a therapeutic approach to protect humans from various environmental insults that may occur daily.
PMCID: PMC2535615  PMID: 18795156
antioxidant responsive element; antitumor; ARE; arsenic; chemoprevention; diterpenoid; Keap1; Nrf2; oridonin; oxidative stress; rubescensin
12.  The role of reactive oxygen species in arsenite and monomethylarsonous acid-induced signal transduction in human bladder cells 
Toxicology  2008;250(1):47-54.
Arsenicals are known to induce ROS, which can lead to DNA damage, oxidative stress, and carcinogenesis. A human urothelial cell line,, UROtsa, was used to study the effects of arsenicals on the human bladder. Arsenite [As(III)] and monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)] induce oxidative stress in UROtsa cells after exposure to concentrations as low as 1 μM and 50 nM, respectively. Previous research has implicated ROS as signaling molecules in the MAPK signaling pathway. As(III) and MMA(III) have been shown to increase phosphorylation of key proteins in the MAPK signaling cascade downstream of ErbB2. Both Src phosphorylation (p-Src) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) are induced after exposure to 50 nM MMA(III) and 1 μM As(III). These data suggest that ROS production is a plausible mechanism for the signaling alterations seen in UROtsa cells after acute arsenical exposure. To determine importance of ROS in the MAPK cascade and its downstream induction of p-Src and COX-2, specific ROS antioxidants (both enzymatic and non-enzymatic) were used concomitantly with arsenicals. COX-2 protein and mRNA was shown to be much more influenced by altering the levels of ROS in cells, particularly after MMA(III) treatment. The antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) effectively blocked both As(III)-and MMA(III)-associated COX-2 induction. The generation of ROS and subsequent altered signaling did lead to changes in protein levels of SOD, which were detected after treatment with either 1 μM As(III) or 50 nM MMA(III). These data suggest that the generation of ROS by arsenicals may be a mechanism leading to the altered cellular signaling seen after low-level arsenical exposure.
PMCID: PMC2567114  PMID: 18588940
arsenite [As(III)]; monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)]; ROS; ROS scavengers; MAPK
13.  Oxidant Stress Stimulates Expression of the Human Peroxiredoxin 6 (Prdx6) Gene by a Transcriptional Mechanism Involving an Antioxidant Response Element 
Free radical biology & medicine  2008;46(2):146-153.
Peroxiredoxin 6 (Prdx6) is a unique antioxidant enzyme that can reduce phospholipid and other hydroperoxides. A549 cells, a human lung-derived cell line, express both Prdx6 and Nrf2, a transcription factor that binds to antioxidant response elements (AREs) and promotes expression of antioxidant genes. Treatment of A549 cells with 500μM H2O2 increased Prdx6 mRNA levels 2.5 fold while treatment with 400μM H2O2 or 200μM tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) triggered a corresponding 2.5 fold increase in reporter gene activity in A549 cells transfected with the pSEAP2-Basic vector (BD, Bioscience), containing 1524 nucleotides of the human Prdx6 promoter region. Deletion of a consensus ARE sequence present between positions 357 and 349 before the start of transcription led to a striking decrease in both basal and H2O2 or tBHQ-induced activation in A549 cells and H2O2-induced activation in primary rat alveolar type II cells. Co-transfection with Nrf2 stimulated the Prdx6 promoter in an ARE-dependent manner, while it was negatively regulated by Nrf3. siRNA targeting Nrf2 down-regulated reporter gene expression whereas siRNA targeting the Nrf2 repressor, Keap1, up-regulated it. Binding of Nrf2 to the ARE sequence in chromatin was confirmed by PCR following chromatin immunoprecipitation. These data demonstrate that the ARE within the Prdx6 promoter is a key regulator of basal transcription of the Prdx6 gene and of its inducibility under conditions of oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC2646855  PMID: 18973804
Prdx6 promoter; Transcription factor; Nrf2; Keap1; lung cells; reporter gene assay
14.  Nrf2 protects against As(III)-induced damage in mouse liver and bladder 
Arsenic compounds are classified as toxicants and human carcinogens. Environmental exposure to arsenic imposes a big health issue worldwide. Arsenic elicits its toxic efforts through many mechanisms, including generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Nrf2 is the primary transcription factor that controls expression of a main cellular antioxidant response, which is required for neutralizing ROS and thus defending cells from exogenous insults. Previously, we demonstrated a protective role of Nrf2 against arsenic-induced toxicity using a cell culture model. In this report, we present evidence that Nrf2 protects against liver and bladder injury in response to six-weeks of arsenic exposure in a mouse model. Nrf2−/− mice displayed more severe pathological changes in the liver and bladder, compared to Nrf2+/+ mice. Furthermore, Nrf2−/− mice were more sensitive to arsenic-induced DNA hypomethylation, oxidative DNA damage, and apoptotic cell death. These results indicate a protective role of Nrf2 against arsenic toxicity in vivo. Hence, this work demonstrates the feasibility of using dietary compounds that target activation of the Nrf2 signaling pathway to alleviate arsenic-induced damage.
PMCID: PMC2739886  PMID: 19538980
15.  Effects of Tert-Butylhydroquinone on Intestinal Inflammatory Response and Apoptosis following Traumatic Brain Injury in Mice 
Mediators of Inflammation  2011;2010:502564.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can induce intestinal inflammatory response and mucosal injury. Antioxidant transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) has been shown in our previous studies to prevent oxidative stress and inflammatory response in gut after TBI. The objective of this study was to test whether tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), an Nrf2 inducer, can protect against TBI-induced intestinal inflammatory response and mucosal injury in mice. Adult male ICR mice were randomly divided into three groups: (1) sham + vehicle group, (2) TBI + vehicle group, and (3) TBI + tBHQ group (n = 12 per group). Closed head injury was adopted using Hall's weight-dropping method. Intestinal mucosa apoptosis and inflammatory-related factors, such as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-1β (IL-1β), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), were investigated at 24 h after TBI. As a result, we found that oral treatment with 1% tBHQ prior to TBI for one week markedly decreased NF-κB activation, inflammatory cytokines production, and ICAM-1 expression in the gut. Administration of tBHQ also significantly attenuated TBI-induced intestinal mucosal apoptosis. The results of the present study suggest that tBHQ administration could suppress the intestinal inflammation and reduce the mucosal damage following TBI.
PMCID: PMC3025385  PMID: 21274455
16.  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
17.  The Nrf2-Inducible Antioxidant Defense in Astrocytes can be Both Up- and Down-Regulated by Activated Microglia: Involvement of p38 MAPK 
Glia  2011;59(5):785-799.
The effects of microglia-conditioned medium (MCM) on the inducible Nrf2 system in astrocyte-rich cultures were investigated by determination of glutathione (GSH) levels, γglutamylcysteine ligase (γGCL) activity, the protein levels of Nrf2, Keap1, the modulatory subunit of γGCL (γGCL-M) and activated MAP kinases (ERK1/2, JNK and p38). Microglia were either cultured for 24 h in serum-free culture medium to achieve microglia-conditioned medium from non-activated cells (MCM0), used as control condition, or activated with different concentrations (0.1–1,000 ng mL–1)of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to produce MCM0.1–1,000. Acute exposure (24 h) to MCM100 increased GSH, γGCL activity, the protein levels of γGCL-M, Nrf2, and activated JNK and ERK1/2 in astrocyte-rich cultures. In contrast, treatment with MCM10 for 24 h decreased components of the Nrf2 system in parallel with activation of p38 MAPK. Stimulation of the Nrf2 system by tBHQ was partly intact after 24 h but blocked after 72 h treatment with MCM10 and MCM100. This down-regulation after 72 h correlated with activation of p38 MAPK and lack of ERK1/2 and JNK activation. The negative effects were partly reversed by an inhibitor of p38 which restored tBHQ mediated protection against oxidative stress. In conclusion, the study showed a negative effect of MCM10 on the inducible anti-oxidant defense in astrocyte-rich cultures at both 24 and 72 h that correlated with activation of p38 and was partly reversed by a p38 inhibitor. A transient protective effect of MCM100 on astrocyte-rich cultures against H2O2 toxicity was observed at 24 h which coincided with activation of JNK and ERK1/2.
PMCID: PMC3366915  PMID: 21351160
neuroinflammation; Nrf2; microglia; astrocytes; tBHQ
18.  Nrf2 Activates Augmenter of Liver Regeneration (ALR) via Antioxidant Response Element and Links Oxidative Stress to Liver Regeneration 
Molecular Medicine  2013;19(1):237-244.
Liver regeneration can be impaired by permanent oxidative stress and activation of nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2), known to regulate the cellular antioxidant response, and has been shown to improve the process of liver regeneration. A variety of factors regulate hepatic tissue regeneration, among them augmenter of liver regeneration (ALR), attained great attention as being survival factors for the liver with proproliferative and antiapoptotic properties. Here we determined the Nrf2/antioxidant response element (ARE) regulated expression of ALR and show ALR as a target gene of Nrf2 in vitro and in vivo. The ALR promoter comprises an ARE binding site and, therefore, ALR expression can be induced by ARE-activator tertiary butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) in hepatoma cells and primary human hepatocytes (PHH). Promoter activity and expression of ALR were enhanced after cotransfection of Nrf2 compared with control and dominant negative mutant of Nrf2. Performing partial hepatectomy in livers from Nrf2+/+ mice compared with Nrf2−/− knock-out (KO) mice, we found increased expression of ALR in addition to known antioxidant ARE-regulated genes. Furthermore, we observed increased ALR expression in hepatitis B virus (HBV) compared with hepatitis C virus (HCV) positive hepatoma cells and PHH. Recently, it was demonstrated that HBV infection activates Nrf2 and, now, we add results showing increased ALR expression in liver samples from patients infected with HBV. ALR is regulated by Nrf2, acts as a liver regeneration and antioxidative protein and, therefore, links oxidative stress to hepatic regeneration to ensure survival of damaged cells.
PMCID: PMC3769531  PMID: 23887691
19.  Interleukin-8 (IL-8) over-production and autocrine cell activation are key factors in monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)]-induced malignant transformation of urothelial cells 
The association between chronic human exposure to arsenicals and bladder cancer development is well recognized; however, the underlying molecular mechanisms have not been fully determined. We propose that inflammatory responses can play a pathogenic role in arsenic-related bladder carcinogenesis. In previous studies, it was demonstrated that chronic exposure to 50 nM monomethylarsenous acid [MMA(III)] leads to malignant transformation of an immortalized model of urothelial cells (UROtsa), with only 3 mo of exposure necessary to trigger the transformation-related changes. In the three-month window of exposure, the cells over-expressed pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6 and IL-8), consistent with the sustained activation of NFKβ and AP1/c-jun, ERK2, and STAT3. IL-8 was over-expressed within hours after exposure to MMA(III), and sustained over-expression was observed during chronic exposure. In this study, we profiled IL-8 expression in UROtsa cells exposed to 50 nM MMA(III) for 1 to 5 mo. IL-8 expression was increased mainly in cells after 3 mo MMA(III) exposure, and its production was also found increased in tumors derived from these cells after heterotransplantation in SCID mice. UROtsa cells do express both receptors, CXCR1 and CXCR2, suggesting that autocrine cell activation could be important in cell transformation. Supporting this observation and consistent with IL-8 over-expression, CXCR1 internalization was significantly increased after three months of exposure to MMA(III). The expression of MMP-9, cyclin D1, bcl-2, and VGEF was significantly increased in cells exposed to MMA(III) for 3 mo, but these mitogen-activated kinases were significantly decreased after IL-8 gene silencing, together with a decrease in cell proliferation rate and in anchorage-independent colony formation. These results suggest a relevant role of IL-8 in MMA(III)-induced UROtsa cell transformation.
PMCID: PMC3254786  PMID: 22015448
bladder cancer; arsenic; monomethylarsonous acid; IL-8; CXCL8; CXCR1; inflammation
20.  The Transcriptional Response to Oxidative Stress during Vertebrate Development: Effects of tert-Butylhydroquinone and 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-Dioxin 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e113158.
Oxidative stress is an important mechanism of chemical toxicity, contributing to teratogenesis and to cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Developing animals may be especially sensitive to chemicals causing oxidative stress. The developmental expression and inducibility of anti-oxidant defenses through activation of NF-E2-related factor 2 (NRF2) affect susceptibility to oxidants, but the embryonic response to oxidants is not well understood. To assess the response to chemically mediated oxidative stress and how it may vary during development, zebrafish embryos, eleutheroembryos, or larvae at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 days post fertilization (dpf) were exposed to DMSO (0.1%), tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ; 10 µM) or 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD; 2 nM) for 6 hr. Transcript abundance was assessed by real-time qRT-PCR and microarray. qRT-PCR showed strong (4- to 5-fold) induction of gstp1 by tBHQ as early as 1 dpf. tBHQ also induced gclc (2 dpf), but not sod1, nqo1, or cyp1a. TCDD induced cyp1a but none of the other genes. Microarray analysis showed that 1477 probes were significantly different among the DMSO-, tBHQ-, and TCDD-treated eleutheroembryos at 4 dpf. There was substantial overlap between genes induced in developing zebrafish and a set of marker genes induced by oxidative stress in mammals. Genes induced by tBHQ in 4-dpf zebrafish included those involved in glutathione synthesis and utilization, signal transduction, and DNA damage/stress response. The strong induction of hsp70 determined by microarray was confirmed by qRT-PCR and by use of transgenic zebrafish expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) under control of the hsp70 promoter. Genes strongly down-regulated by tBHQ included mitfa, providing a molecular explanation for the loss of pigmentation in tBHQ-exposed embryos. These data show that zebrafish embryos are responsive to oxidative stress as early as 1 dpf, that responsiveness varies with development in a gene-specific manner, and that the oxidative stress response is substantially conserved in vertebrate animals.
PMCID: PMC4234671  PMID: 25402455
21.  Tanshinone I Activates the Nrf2-Dependent Antioxidant Response and Protects Against As(III)-Induced Lung Inflammation In Vitro and In Vivo 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2013;19(14):1647-1661.
Aims: The NF-E2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) signaling pathway regulates the cellular antioxidant response and activation of Nrf2 has recently been shown to limit tissue damage from exposure to environmental toxicants, including As(III). In an attempt to identify improved molecular agents for systemic protection against environmental insults, we have focused on the identification of novel medicinal plant-derived Nrf2 activators. Results: Tanshinones [tanshinone I (T-I), tanshinone IIA, dihydrotanshinone, cryptotanshinone], phenanthrenequinone-based redox therapeutics derived from the medicinal herb Salvia miltiorrhiza, have been tested as experimental therapeutics for Nrf2-dependent cytoprotection. Using a dual luciferase reporter assay overexpressing wild-type or mutant Kelch-like ECH-associated protein-1 (Keap1), we demonstrate that T-I is a potent Keap1-C151-dependent Nrf2 activator that stabilizes Nrf2 by hindering its ubiquitination. In human bronchial epithelial cells exposed to As(III), T-I displays pronounced cytoprotective activity with upregulation of Nrf2-orchestrated gene expression. In Nrf2 wild-type mice, systemic administration of T-I attenuates As(III) induced inflammatory lung damage, a protective effect not observed in Nrf2 knockout mice. Innovation: Tanshinones have been identified as a novel class of Nrf2-inducers for antioxidant tissue protection in an in vivo As(III) inhalation model, that is relevant to low doses of environmental exposure. Conclusion: T-I represents a prototype Nrf2-activator that displays cytoprotective activity upon systemic administration targeting lung damage originating from environmental insults. T-I based Nrf2-directed systemic intervention may provide therapeutic benefit in protecting other organs against environmental insults. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 19, 1647–1661.
PMCID: PMC3809600  PMID: 23394605
22.  A Quantitative Proteomic Profile of the Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant Response of Macrophages to Oxidized LDL Determined by Multiplexed Selected Reaction Monitoring 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50016.
The loading of macrophages with oxidized low density lipoprotein (LDL) is a key part of the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Oxidized LDL contains a wide ranging set of toxic species, yet the molecular events that allow macrophages to withstand loading with these toxic species are not completely characterized. The transcription factor nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) is a master regulator of the cellular stress response. However, the specific parts of the Nrf2-dependent stress response are diverse, with both tissue- and treatment-dependent components. The goal of these experiments was to develop and use a quantitative proteomic approach to characterize the Nrf2-dependent response in macrophages to oxidized LDL. Cultured mouse macrophages, the J774 macrophage-like cell line, were treated with a combination of oxidized LDL, the Nrf2-stabilizing reagent tert- butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), and/or Nrf2 siRNA. Protein expression was determined using a quantitative proteomics assay based on selected reaction monitoring. The assay was multiplexed to monitor a set of 28 antioxidant and stress response proteins, 6 housekeeping proteins, and 1 non-endogenous standard protein. The results have two components. The first component is the validation of the multiplexed, quantitative proteomics assay. The assay is shown to be fundamentally quantitative, precise, and accurate. The second component is the characterization of the Nrf2-mediated stress response. Treatment with tBHQ and/or Nrf2 siRNA gave statistically significant changes in the expression of a subset of 11 proteins. Treatment with oxidized LDL gave statistically significant increases in the expression of 7 of those 11 proteins plus one additional protein. All of the oxLDL-mediated increases were attenuated by Nrf2 siRNA. These results reveal a specific, multifaceted response of the foam cells to the incoming toxic oxidized LDL.
PMCID: PMC3500347  PMID: 23166812
23.  Effect of Nrf2 activators on release of glutathione, cysteinylglycine and homocysteine by human U373 astroglial cells☆ 
Redox Biology  2013;1(1):441-445.
Neurons rely on the release and subsequent cleavage of GSH to cysteinylglycine (CysGly) by astrocytes in order to maintain optimal intracellular GSH levels. In neurodegenerative diseases characterised by oxidative stress, neurons need an optimal GSH supply to defend themselves against free radicals released from activated microglia and astroglia. The rate of GSH synthesis is controlled largely by the activity of γ-glutamyl cysteine ligase. Expression of γ-glutamyl cysteine ligase and of the Xc- system, which facilitates cystine uptake, is regulated by the redox-sensitive transcription factor, nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). Compounds that can activate the Nrf2-ARE pathway, referred to as ‘Nrf2 activators’ are receiving growing attention due to their potential as GSH-boosting drugs.
This study compares four known Nrf2 activators, R-α-Lipoic acid (LA), tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), sulforaphane (SFN) and Polygonum cuspidatum extract containing 50% resveratrol (PC-Res) for their effects on astroglial release of GSH and CysGly. GSH levels increased dose-dependently in response to all four drugs. Sulforaphane produced the most potent effect, increasing GSH by up to 2.4-fold. PC-Res increased GSH up to 1.6-fold, followed by TBHQ (1.5-fold) and LA (1.4-fold). GSH is processed by the ectoenzyme, γ-glutamyl transpeptidase, to form CysGly. Once again, SFN produced the most potent effect, increasing CysGly by up to 1.7-fold, compared to control cells. TBHQ and PC-Res both induced fold increases of 1.3, followed by LA with a fold increase of 1.2. The results from the present study showed that sulforaphane, followed by lipoic acid, resveratrol and Polygonum multiflorum were all identified as potent “GSH and Cys-Gly boosters”.
Graphical abstract
•R-α-Lipoic acid (LA), tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), sulforaphane (SFN) and Polygonum cuspidatum extract containing 50% resveratrol (PC-Res) increase astroglial release of GSH.•Sulforaphane produced the most potent effect, increasing GSH by up to 2.4-fold. PC-Res increased GSH up to 1.6-fold, followed by TBHQ (1.5-fold) and LA (1.4-fold). GSH is processed by the ectoenzyme, γ-glutamyl transpeptidase, to form CysGly.•Once again, SFN produced the most potent effect, increasing CysGly by up to 1.7-fold, compared to control cells. TBHQ and PC-Res both induced fold increases of 1.3, followed by LA with a fold increase of 1.2.
PMCID: PMC3814960  PMID: 24191238
ARE, antioxidant response elements; CysGly, cysteinylglycine; DMEM, Dulbeccos's Modified Eagle Medium; GSH, glutathione; HCys, homocysteine; Nrf2, nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2; LA, α-lipoic acid; PC, Polygonum cuspidatum; ROS, reactive oxygen species; SFN, sulforaphane; TBHQ, Tert-butylhydroquinone; Astroglia; Nrf2 activators; Glutathione; Cysteinylglycine
Toxicology  2011;291(1-3):102-112.
Bladder cancer has been associated with chronic arsenic exposure. Monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)] is a metabolite of inorganic arsenic and has been shown to transform an immortalized urothelial cell line (UROtsa) at concentrations 20-fold less than arsenite. MMA(III) was used as a model arsenical to examine the mechanisms of arsenical-induced transformation of urothelium. A microarray analysis was performed to assess the transcriptional changes in UROtsa during the critical window of chronic 50 nM MMA(III) exposure that leads to transformation at three months of exposure. The analysis revealed only minor changes in gene expression at one and two months of exposure, contrasting with substantial changes observed at three months of exposure. The gene expression changes at three months were analyzed showing distinct alterations in biological processes and pathways such as a response to oxidative stress, enhanced cell proliferation, anti-apoptosis, MAPK signaling, as well as inflammation. Twelve genes selected as markers of these particular biological processes were used to validate the microarray and these genes showed a time-dependent changes at one and two months of exposure, with the most substantial changes occurring at three months of exposure. These results indicate that there is a strong association between the acquired phenotypic changes that occur with chronic MMA(III) exposure and the observed gene expression patterns that are indicative of a malignant transformation. Although the substantial changes that occur at three months of exposure may be a consequence of transformation, there are common occurrences of altered biological processes between the first two months of exposure and the third, which may be pivotal in driving transformation.
PMCID: PMC3245769  PMID: 22108045
Arsenic; Monomethylarsonous Acid; Bladder Cancer; UROtsa; Gene Expression
25.  Th2 skewing by activation of Nrf2 in CD4+ T cells1 
Nuclear factor erythroid 2 related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that mediates the upregulation of a battery of cytoprotective genes in response to cell stress. Recent studies have shown that Nrf2 also modulates immune responses and exhibits anti-inflammatory activity. In this report, we demonstrate that a common food preservative, tBHQ, can activate Nrf2 in T cells, as evidenced by Nrf2 binding to the antioxidant response element (ARE) and the subsequent upregulation of Nrf2 target genes. The activation of Nrf2 suppresses IFNγ production, while inducing the production of the Th2 cytokines, IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13. Nrf2 activation also suppresses T-bet DNA binding and promotes GATA-3 DNA binding. Collectively, the present studies suggest that Nrf2 activation skews CD4+ T cells toward Th2 differentiation and thus represents a novel regulatory mechanism in CD4+ T cells. Further studies will be needed to determine whether the commercial use of Nrf2 activators as food preservatives promotes food allergies in humans.
PMCID: PMC3273574  PMID: 22250088

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