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1.  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
2.  Nrf2 protects human bladder urothelial cells from arsenite and monomethylarsonous acid toxicity 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2007;225(2):206-213.
Arsenic is widely spread in our living environment and imposes a big challenge on human health worldwide. Arsenic damages biological systems through multiple mechanisms including the generation of reactive oxygen species. The transcription factor Nrf2 regulates the cellular antioxidant response that protects cells from various insults. In this study, the protective role of Nrf2 in arsenic toxicity was investigated in a human bladder urothelial cell line, UROtsa. Using an UROtsa cell line stably infected with Nrf2-siRNA, we clearly demonstrate that compromised Nrf2 expression sensitized the cells to As(III)- and MMA(III)-induced toxicity. On the other hand, the activation of the Nrf2 pathway by tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) and sulforaphane (SF), the known Nrf2-inducers, rendered UROtsa cells more resistant to As(III)- and MMA(III). Furthermore, the wild type mouse embryo fibroblast (WT-MEF) cells were protected from As(III)- and MMA(III)-induced toxicity following Nrf2 activation by tBHQ or SF whereas neither tBHQ nor SF conferred protection in the Nrf2−/−-MEF cells, demonstrating that tBHQ- or SF-mediated protection against As(III)- and MMA(III)-induced toxicity depends on Nrf2 activation. These results, obtained by both loss of function and gain of function analyses, clearly demonstrate the protective role of Nrf2 in arsenic-induced toxicity. The current work lays the groundwork for using Nrf2 activators for therapeutic and dietary interventions against adverse effects of arsenic.
PMCID: PMC2610476  PMID: 17765279
Nrf2; Keap1; arsenic; arsenite; MMA(III); UROtsa
3.  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
4.  Sulforaphane prevents pulmonary damage in response to inhaled arsenic by activating the Nrf2-defense response 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2012;265(3):292-299.
Exposure to arsenic is associated with an increased risk of lung disease. Novel strategies are needed to reduce the adverse health effects associated with arsenic exposure in the lung. Nrf2, a transcription factor that mediates an adaptive cellular defense response, is effective in detoxifying environmental insults and prevents a broad spectrum of diseases induced by environmental exposure to harmful substances. In this report, we tested whether Nrf2 activation protects mice from arsenic-induced toxicity. We used an in vivo arsenic inhalation model that is highly relevant to low environmental human exposure to arsenic-containing dusts. Two-week exposure to arsenic-containing dust resulted in pathological alterations, oxidative DNA damage, and mild apoptotic cell death in the lung; all of which were blocked by sulforaphane (SF) in an Nrf2-dependent manner. Mechanistically, SF-mediated activation of Nrf2 alleviated inflammatory responses by modulating cytokine production. This study provides strong evidence that dietary intervention targeting Nrf2 activation is a feasible approach to reduce adverse health effects associated with arsenic exposure.
PMCID: PMC3725323  PMID: 22975029
Nrf2; Keap1; Arsenic; Antioxidant response
5.  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
6.  Identification of an unintended consequence of Nrf2-directed cytoprotection against a key tobacco carcinogen plus a counteracting chemopreventive intervention 
Cancer research  2011;71(11):3904-3911.
Nrf2 is a major cytoprotective gene and is a key chemopreventive target against cancer and other diseases. Here we show that Nrf2 faces a dilemma in defense against 4-aminobiphenyl (ABP), a major human bladder carcinogen from tobacco smoke and other environmental sources. While Nrf2 protected mouse liver against ABP (which is metabolically activated in liver), the bladder level of N-(deoxyguanosin-8-yl)-4-aminobiphenyl (dG-C8-ABP), the predominant ABP-DNA adduct formed in bladder cells and tissues, was markedly higher in Nrf2+/+ mice than in Nrf2−/− mice after ABP exposure. Notably, Nrf2 protected bladder cells against ABP in vitro. Mechanistic investigations showed that the dichotomous effects of Nrf2 could be explained at least partly by upregulation of UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT). Nrf2 promoted conjugation of ABP with glucuronic acid in the liver, increasing urinary excretion of the conjugate. While glucuronidation of ABP and its metabolites is a detoxification process, these conjugates, which are excreted in urine, are known to be unstable in acidic urine, leading to delivery of the parent compounds to bladder. Hence, while higher liver UGT activity may protect the liver against ABP it increases bladder exposure to ABP. These findings raise concerns of potential bladder toxicity when Nrf2-activating chemopreventive agents are used in humans exposed to ABP, especially in smokers. We further demonstrate that 5,6-dihydrocyclopenta[c][1,2]-dithiole-3(4H)-thione (CPDT) significantly inhibits dG-C8-ABP formation in bladder cells and tissues, but does not appear to significantly modulate ABP-catalyzing UGT in liver. Thus, CPDT exemplifies a counteracting solution to the dilemma posed by Nrf2.
PMCID: PMC3107372  PMID: 21487034
7.  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
8.  Nrf2 protects against 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)-induced oxidative injury and steatohepatitis 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2011;256(2):122-135.
Previous studies demonstrate that Nrf2, a master regulator of antioxidative responses, is essential in mediating induction of many antioxidative enzymes by acute activation of the AhR. However, the role of Nrf2 in protecting against oxidative stress and DNA damage induced by sustained activation of the AhR remains unknown and was investigated herein. Tissue and blood samples were collected from wild-type (WT) and Nrf2-null mice 21 days after administration of a low-toxic dose (10 µg/kg ip) of TCDD. Only Nrf2-null mice lost body weight after TCDD treatment; however, blood levels of ALT were not markedly changed in either genotype, indicating a lack of extensive necrosis. Compared to livers of TCDD-treated WT mice, livers of TCDD-treated Nrf2-null mice had: 1) degenerated hepatocytes, lobular inflammation, marked fat accumulation, and higher mRNA expression of inflammatory and fibrotic genes; 2) depletion of glutathione, elevation in lipid peroxidation and marker of DNA damage; 3) attenuated induction of phase-II enzymes Nqo1, Gsta1/2, and Ugt2b35 mRNAs, but higher induction of cytoprotective Ho-1, Prdx1, Trxr1, Gclc, and Epxh1 mRNAs; 4) higher mRNA expression of Fgf21 and triglyceride-synthesis genes, but down-regulation of bile-acid-synthesis genes and cholesterol-efflux transporters; and 5) trend of induction/activation of c-jun and NF-kB. Additionally, TCDD-treated Nrf2-null mice had impaired adipogenesis in white adipose tissue. In conclusion, Nrf2 protects livers of mice against oxidative stress, DNA damage, and steatohepatitis induced by TCDD-mediated sustained activation of the AhR. The aggravated hepatosteatosis in TCDD-treated Nrf2-null mice is due to increased lipogenesis in liver and impaired lipogenesis in white adipose tissue.
PMCID: PMC3183285  PMID: 21846477
AhR; Nrf2; knockout; TCDD; sustained activation; oxidative stress; steatohepatitis
9.  Deletion of Keap1 in the Lung Attenuates Acute Cigarette Smoke–Induced Oxidative Stress and Inflammation 
Exposure to cigarette smoke (CS) is the primary factor associated with the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). CS increases the level of oxidants in the lungs, resulting in a depletion of antioxidants, which promotes oxidative stress and the destruction of alveolar tissue. In response to CS, pulmonary epithelial cells counteract increased levels of oxidants by activating Nrf2-dependent pathways to augment the expression of detoxification and antioxidant enzymes, thereby protecting the lung from injury. We hypothesize that increasing the pathways activated by Nrf2 will afford protection against CS-induced lung damage. To this end we have developed a novel mouse model in which the cytosolic inhibitor of Nrf2, Keap1, is genetically deleted in Clara cells, which predominate in the upper airways in mice. Deletion of Keap1 in Clara cells resulted in increased expression of Nrf2-dependent genes, such as Nqo1 and Gclm, as determined by microarray analysis and quantitative PCR. Deletion of Keap1 in airway epithelium decreased Keap1 protein levels and significantly increased the total level of glutathione in the lungs. Increased Nrf2 activation protected Clara cells against oxidative stress ex vivo and attenuated oxidative stress and CS-induced inflammation in vivo. Expression of KEAP1 was also decreased in human epithelial cells through siRNA transfection, which increased the expression of Nrf2-dependent genes and attenuated oxidative stress. In conclusion, activating Nrf2 pathways in tissue-specific Keap1 knockout mice represents an important genetic approach against oxidant-induced lung damage.
PMCID: PMC2874439  PMID: 19520915
cigarette smoke; Nrf2; Keap1; inflammation; oxidative stress
10.  Activation of the Nrf2 Pathway by Inorganic Arsenic in Human Hepatocytes and the Role of Transcriptional Repressor Bach1 
Previous studies have proved that the environmental toxicant, inorganic arsenic, activates nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) pathway in many different cell types. This study tried to explore the hepatic Nrf2 pathway upon arsenic treatment comprehensively, since liver is one of the major target organs of arsenical toxicity. Our results showed that inorganic arsenic significantly induced Nrf2 protein and mRNA expression in Chang human hepatocytes. We also observed a dose-dependent increase of antioxidant response element- (ARE-) luciferase activity. Both the mRNA and protein levels of NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) and heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) were all upregulated dramatically. On the other hand, entry and accumulation of Nrf2 protein in the nucleus, while exportting the transcriptional repressor BTB and CNC homology 1 (Bach1) from nucleus to cytoplasm, were also confirmed by western blot and immunofluorescence assay. Our results therefore confirmed the arsenic-induced Nrf2 pathway activation in hepatocytes and also suggested that the translocation of Bach1 was associated with the regulation of Nrf2 pathway by arsenic. Hepatic Nrf2 pathway plays indispensable roles for cellular defenses against arsenic hepatotoxicity, and the interplay of Bach1 and Nrf2 may be helpful to understand the self-defensive responses and the diverse biological effects of arsenicals.
PMCID: PMC3664501  PMID: 23738048
11.  Novel Chalcone Derivatives as Potent Nrf2 Activators in Mice and Human Lung Epithelial Cells 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2011;54(12):4147-4159.
Nrf2-mediated activation of antioxidant response element is a central part of molecular mechanisms governing the protective function of phase II detoxification and antioxidant enzymes against carcinogenesis, oxidative stress and inflammation. Nrf2 is sequestered in the cytoplasm by its repressor, Keap1. We have designed and synthesized novel chalcone derivatives as Nrf2 activators. The potency of these compounds was measured by the expression of Nrf2 dependent antioxidant genes, GCLM, NQO1 and HO1, in human lung epithelial cells; while the cytotoxicity was analyzed using MTT assay. In vivo potency of identified lead compounds to activate Nrf2 was evaluated using mouse model. Our studies showed 2-trifluoromethyl-2’-methoxychalone (2b) to be a potent activator of Nrf2, both, in vitro and in mice. Additional experiments showed that the activation of Nrf2 by this compound is independent of reactive oxygen species or redox changes. We have discussed a quantitative structure-activity relationship and proposed a possible mechanism of Nrf2 activation.
PMCID: PMC3212436  PMID: 21539383
12.  NRF2 Protection against Liver Injury Produced by Various Hepatotoxicants 
To investigate the role of Nrf2 as a master defense against the hepatotoxicity produced by various chemicals, Nrf2-null, wild-type, Keap1-knock down (Keap1-Kd) and Keap1-hepatocyte knockout (Keap1-HKO) mice were used as a “graded Nrf2 activation” model. Mice were treated with 14 hepatotoxicants at appropriate doses, and blood and liver samples were collected thereafter (6 h to 7 days depending on the hepatotoxicant). Graded activation of Nrf2 offered a Nrf2-dependent protection against the hepatotoxicity produced by carbon tetrachloride, acetaminophen, microcystin, phalloidin, furosemide, cadmium, and lithocholic acid, as evidenced by serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) activities and by histopathology. Nrf2 activation also offered moderate protection against liver injury produced by ethanol, arsenic, bromobenzene, and allyl alcohol but had no effects on the hepatotoxicity produced by D-galactosamine/endotoxin and the Fas ligand antibody Jo-2. Graded Nrf2 activation reduced the expression of inflammatory genes (MIP-2, mKC, IL-1β, IL-6, and TNFα), oxidative stress genes (Ho-1, Egr1), ER stress genes (Gadd45 and Gadd153), and genes encoding cell death (Noxa, Bax, Bad, and caspase3). Thus, this study demonstrates that Nrf2 prevents the liver from many, but not all, hepatotoxicants. The Nrf2-mediated protection is accompanied by induction of antioxidant genes, suppression of inflammatory responses, and attenuation of oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC3676920  PMID: 23766851
13.  Pseudomonas aeruginosa Pyocyanin Activates NRF2-ARE-Mediated Transcriptional Response via the ROS-EGFR-PI3K-AKT/MEK-ERK MAP Kinase Signaling in Pulmonary Epithelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e72528.
The redox-active pyocyanin (PCN) secreted by the respiratory pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) and causes oxidative stress to pulmonary epithelial cells. Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (NRF2) confers protection against ROS-mediated cell death by inducing the expression of detoxifying enzymes and proteins via its binding to the cis-acting antioxidant response element (ARE). However, a clear relationship between NRF2 and PCN-mediated oxidative stress has not been established experimentally. In this study, we investigated the induction of NRF2-ARE response by PCN in the pulmonary epithelial cells. We analyzed the effect of PCN on NRF2 expression and nuclear translocation in cultured human airway epithelial cells, and in a mouse model of chronic PCN exposure. NRF2-dependent transcription of antioxidative enzymes was also assessed. Furthermore, we used inhibitors to examine the involvement of EGFR and its downstream signaling components that mediate NRF2-ARE-activation in response to PCN. PCN enhances the nuclear NRF2 accumulation and activates the transcription of ARE-mediated antioxidant genes. Furthermore, PCN activates NRF2 by inducing the EGFR-phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathway and its main downstream effectors, AKT and MEK1/2-ERK1/2 MAP kinases. Inhibition of the EGFR-PI3K signaling markedly attenuates PCN-stimulated NRF2 accumulation in the nucleus. We demonstrate for the first time that PCN-mediated oxidative stress activates the EGFR-PI3K-AKT/MEK1/2-ERK1/2 MAP kinase signaling pathway, leading to nuclear NRF2 translocation and ARE responsiveness in pulmonary epithelial cells.
PMCID: PMC3755003  PMID: 24015256
14.  Nrf2 Signaling, a Mechanism for Cellular Stress Resistance in Long-Lived Mice▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2009;30(3):871-884.
Transcriptional regulation of the antioxidant response element (ARE) by Nrf2 is important for the cellular adaptive response to toxic insults. New data show that primary skin-derived fibroblasts from the long-lived Snell dwarf mutant mouse, previously shown to be resistant to many toxic stresses, have elevated levels of Nrf2 and of multiple Nrf2-sensitive ARE genes. Dwarf-derived fibroblasts exhibit many of the traits associated with enhanced activity of Nrf2/ARE, including higher levels of glutathione and resistance to plasma membrane lipid peroxidation. Treatment of control cells with arsenite, an inducer of Nrf2 activity, increases their resistance to paraquat, hydrogen peroxide, cadmium, and UV light, rendering these cells as stress resistant as untreated cells from dwarf mice. Furthermore, mRNA levels for some Nrf2-sensitive genes are elevated in at least some tissues of Snell dwarf mice, suggesting that the phenotypes observed in culture may be mirrored in vivo. Augmented activity of Nrf2 and ARE-responsive genes may coordinate many of the stress resistance traits seen in cells from these long-lived mutant mice.
PMCID: PMC2812245  PMID: 19933842
15.  Genetic or Pharmacologic Amplification of Nrf2 Signaling Inhibits Acute Inflammatory Liver Injury in Mice 
Oxidative stress-mediated destruction of normal parenchymal cells during hepatic inflammatory responses contributes to the pathogenesis of immune-mediated hepatitis and is implicated in the progression of acute inflammatory liver injury to chronic inflammatory liver disease. The transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) regulates the expression of a battery of antioxidative enzymes and Nrf2 signaling can be activated by small-molecule drugs that disrupt Keap1-mediated repression of Nrf2 signaling. Therefore, genetic and pharmacologic approaches were used to activate Nrf2 signaling to assess protection against inflammatory liver injury. Profound increases in ind of cell death were observed in both Nrf2 wild-type (Nrf2-WT) mice and Nrf2-disrupted (Nrf2-KO) mice 24-hr following intravenous injection of concanavalin A (12.5 mg/kg, ConA), a model for T cell-mediated acute inflammatory liver injury. However, hepatocyte-specific conditional Keap1 null (Alb-Cre:Keap1flox/−, cKeap1-KO) mice with constitutively enhanced expression of Nrf2-regulated antioxidative genes as well as Nrf2-WT mice but not Nrf2-KO mice pretreated with three daily doses of a triterpenoid that potently activates Nrf2 (30 µmole/kg, CDDO-Im) were highly resistant to ConA-mediated inflammatory liver injury. CDDO-Im pretreatment of both Nrf2-WT and Nrf2-KO mice resulted in equivalent suppression of serum pro-inflammatory soluble proteins suggesting that the hepatoprotection afforded by CDDO-Im pretreatment of Nrf2-WT mice but not Nrf2-KO mice was not due to suppression of systemic pro-inflammatory signaling, but instead was due to activation of Nrf2 signaling in the liver. Enhanced hepatic expression of Nrf2-regulated antioxidative genes inhibited inflammation-mediated oxidative stress, thereby preventing hepatocyte necrosis. Attenuation of hepatocyte death in cKeap1-KO mice and CDDO-Im pretreated Nrf2-WT mice resulted in decreased late-phase pro-inflammatory gene expression in the liver thereby diminishing the sustained influx of inflammatory cells initially stimulated by the ConA challenge. Taken together, these results clearly illustrate that targeted cytoprotection of hepatocytes through Nrf2 signaling during inflammation prevents the amplification of inflammatory responses in the liver.
PMCID: PMC2435415  PMID: 18417483
Liver inflammation; Nrf2; Keap1; antioxidative enzymes; cytoprotection; triterpenoid
16.  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
17.  The Protective Role of Nrf2 in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Nephropathy 
Diabetes  2010;59(4):850-860.
Diabetic nephropathy is one of the major causes of renal failure, which is accompanied by the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Nrf2 is the primary transcription factor that controls the antioxidant response essential for maintaining cellular redox homeostasis. Here, we report our findings demonstrating a protective role of Nrf2 against diabetic nephropathy.
We explore the protective role of Nrf2 against diabetic nephropathy using human kidney biopsy tissues from diabetic nephropathy patients, a streptozotocin-induced diabetic nephropathy model in Nrf2−/− mice, and cultured human mesangial cells.
The glomeruli of human diabetic nephropathy patients were under oxidative stress and had elevated Nrf2 levels. In the animal study, Nrf2 was demonstrated to be crucial in ameliorating streptozotocin-induced renal damage. This is evident by Nrf2−/− mice having higher ROS production and suffering from greater oxidative DNA damage and renal injury compared with Nrf2+/+ mice. Mechanistic studies in both in vivo and in vitro systems showed that the Nrf2-mediated protection against diabetic nephropathy is, at least, partially through inhibition of transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) and reduction of extracellular matrix production. In human renal mesangial cells, high glucose induced ROS production and activated expression of Nrf2 and its downstream genes. Furthermore, activation or overexpression of Nrf2 inhibited the promoter activity of TGF-β1 in a dose-dependent manner, whereas knockdown of Nrf2 by siRNA enhanced TGF-β1 transcription and fibronectin production.
This work clearly indicates a protective role of Nrf2 in diabetic nephropathy, suggesting that dietary or therapeutic activation of Nrf2 could be used as a strategy to prevent or slow down the progression of diabetic nephropathy.
PMCID: PMC2844833  PMID: 20103708
18.  Genetic Evidence of an Evolutionarily Conserved Role for Nrf2 in the Protection against Oxidative Stress 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2012;32(21):4455-4461.
Transcription factor Nrf2 is considered a master regulator of antioxidant defense in mammals. However, it is unclear whether this concept is applicable to nonmammalian vertebrates, because no animal model other than Nrf2 knockout mice has been generated to examine the effects of Nrf2 deficiency. Here, we characterized a recessive loss-of-function mutant of Nrf2 (nrf2fh318) in a lower vertebrate, the zebrafish (Danio rerio). In keeping with the findings in the mouse model, nrf2fh318 mutants exhibited reduced induction of the Nrf2 target genes in response to oxidative stress and electrophiles but were viable and fertile, and their embryos developed normally. The nrf2fh318 larvae displayed enhanced sensitivity to oxidative stress and electrophiles, especially peroxides, and pretreatment with an Nrf2-activating compound, sulforaphane, decreased peroxide-induced lethality in the wild type but not nrf2fh318 mutants, indicating that resistance to oxidative stress is highly dependent on Nrf2 functions. These results reveal an evolutionarily conserved role of vertebrate Nrf2 in protection against oxidative stress. Interestingly, there were no significant differences between wild-type and nrf2fh318 larvae with regard to their sensitivity to superoxide and singlet oxygen generators, suggesting that the importance of Nrf2 in oxidative stress protection varies based on the type of reactive oxygen species (ROS).
PMCID: PMC3486152  PMID: 22949501
19.  Ectodermal-Neural Cortex 1 Down-Regulates Nrf2 at the Translational Level 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(5):e5492.
The transcription factor Nrf2 is the master regulator of a cellular defense mechanism against environmental insults. The Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response is accomplished by the transcription of a battery of genes that encode phase II detoxifying enzymes, xenobiotic transporters, and antioxidants. Coordinated expression of these genes is critical in protecting cells from toxic and carcinogenic insults and in maintaining cellular redox homeostasis. Activation of the Nrf2 pathway is primarily controlled by Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), which is a molecular switch that turns on or off the Nrf2 signaling pathway according to intracellular redox conditions. Here we report our finding of a novel Nrf2 suppressor ectodermal-neural cortex 1 (ENC1), which is a BTB-Kelch protein and belongs to the same family as Keap1. Transient expression of ENC1 reduced steady-state levels of Nrf2 and its downstream gene expression. Although ENC1 interacted with Keap1 indirectly, the ENC1-mediated down-regulation of Nrf2 was independent of Keap1. The negative effect of ENC1 on Nrf2 was not due to a change in the stability of Nrf2 because neither proteasomal nor lysosomal inhibitors had any effects. Overexpression of ENC1 did not result in a change in the level of Nrf2 mRNA, rather, it caused a decrease in the rate of Nrf2 protein synthesis. These results demonstrate that ENC1 functions as a negative regulator of Nrf2 through suppressing Nrf2 protein translation, which adds another level of complexity in controlling the Nrf2 signaling pathway.
PMCID: PMC2675063  PMID: 19424503
20.  Nrf2-Mediated Transcriptional Induction of Antioxidant Response in Mouse Embryos Exposed to Ethanol in vivo: Implications for the Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2008;10(12):2023-2033.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that is important in protection against oxidative stress. This study was designed to determine the role of Nrf2 signaling in transcriptional activation of detoxifying and antioxidant genes in an in vivo mouse fetal alcohol syndrome model. Maternal ethanol treatment was found to increase both Nrf2 protein levels and Nrf2-ARE binding in mouse embryos. It also resulted in a moderate increase in the mRNA expression of Nrf2 downstream target detoxifying and antioxidant genes as well as an increase in the expression of antioxidant proteins. Pretreatment with the Nrf2 inducer, 3H-1,2 dithiole-3-thione (D3T), significantly increased Nrf2 protein levels and Nrf2-ARE binding, and strongly induced the mRNA expression of Nrf2 downstream target genes. It also increased the expression of antioxidant proteins and the activities of the antioxidant enzymes. Additionally, D3T pretreatment resulted in a significant decrease in ethanol-induced reactive oxygen species generation and apoptosis in mouse embryos. These results demonstrate that Nrf2 signaling is involved in the induction of antioxidant response in ethanol-exposed embryos. In addition, the potency of D3T in inducing antioxidants as well as in diminishing ethanol-induced apoptosis suggests that further exploration of the antiteratogenic effect of this compound will be fruitful. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 11, 2023–2033.
PMCID: PMC2933156  PMID: 18759561
21.  Molecular and genomic approach for understanding the gene-environment interaction between Nrf2 deficiency and carcinogenic nickel-induced DNA damage 
Oncology Reports  2012;28(6):1959-1967.
Nickel (II) is a toxic and carcinogenic metal which induces a redox imbalance following oxidative stress. Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a redox factor that regulates oxidation/reduction status and consequently mediates cytoprotective responses against exposure to environmental toxicants. In this study, we investigated the protective roles of the Nrf2 gene against oxidative stress and DNA damage induced by nickel at sub-lethal doses. Under nickel exposure conditions, we detected significantly increased intracellular ROS generation, in addition to higher amounts of DNA damage using comet assay and γ-H2AX immunofluorescence staining in Nrf2 lacking cells, as compared to Nrf2 wild-type cells. In addition, we attempted to identify potential nickel and Nrf2-responsive targets and the relevant pathway. The genomic expression data were analyzed using microarray for the selection of synergistic effect-related genes by Nrf2 knockdown under nickel treatment. In particular, altered expressions of 6 upregulated genes (CAV1, FOSL2, MICA, PIM2, RUNX1 and SLC7A6) and 4 downregulated genes (APLP1, CLSPN, PCAF and PRAME) were confirmed by qRT-PCR. Additionally, using bioinformatics tool, we found that these genes functioned principally in a variety of molecular processes, including oxidative stress response, necrosis, DNA repair and cell survival. Thus, we describe the potential biomarkers regarded as molecular candidates for Nrf2-related cellular protection against nickel exposure. In conclusion, these findings indicate that Nrf2 is an important factor with a protective role in the suppression of mutagenicity and carcinogenicity by environmental nickel exposure in terms of gene-environment interaction.
PMCID: PMC3583472  PMID: 23023193
nickel; nuclear factor eryrhroid-2 related factor 2; oxidative stress; DNA damage; toxicogenomics; pathway analysis
22.  Nrf2 the Rescue: Effects of the Antioxidative/Electrophilic Response on the Liver 
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that positively regulates the basal and inducible expression of a large battery of cytoprotective genes. These gene products include proteins that catalyze reduction reactions (NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1, Nqo1), conjugation reactions (glutathione-S-transferases, Gsts and UDP-glucuronosyltransferases, Ugts), as well as the efflux of potentially toxic xenobiotics and xenobiotic conjugates (multidrug resistance-associated proteins, Mrps). The significance of Nrf2 in the liver has been established, as livers of Nrf2-null mice are more susceptible to various oxidative/electrophilic stress-induced pathologies than wild-type mice. In contrast, both pharmacological and genetic models of hepatic Nrf2 activation are protective against oxidative/electrophilic stress. Furthermore, because certain Nrf2-target genes in the liver could affect the distribution, metabolism, and excretion of xenobiotics, the effects of Nrf2 on the kinetics of drugs and other xenobiotics should also be considered, with a special emphasis on metabolism and excretion. Therefore, this review highlights the research that has contributed to the understanding of the importance of Nrf2 in toxicodynamics and toxicokinetics, especially that which pertains to the liver.
PMCID: PMC2860427  PMID: 20122946
23.  The role of the antioxidant and longevity-promoting Nrf2 pathway in metabolic regulation 
Purpose of Review
The vertebrate cap’n’collar family transcription factor Nrf2 and its invertebrate homologs SKN-1 (in worms) and CncC (in flies) function as master mediators of antioxidant and detoxification responses and regulators of the cellular redox state. Nrf2 controls gene expression programs that defend various tissues against diverse electrophilic stressors and oxidative insults, thus protecting the organism from pathologies that are caused or exacerbated by such stresses. Moreover, studies in model organisms implicate the Nrf2 pathway in the prevention of aging-related diseases, and suggest that SKN-1- and CncC-regulated gene expression can promote longevity. These facets of Nrf2 signaling have been thoroughly reviewed. This article discusses another aspect of the Nrf2 pathway’s function that has not yet received the same degree of attention but emerges as a topic of increasing interest and potential clinical impact: its role in metabolic regulation and its interaction with central signaling systems that respond to nutritional inputs.
Recent findings
Recent evidence identifies Nrf2 signaling as a mediator of the salutary effects of caloric restriction. Nrf2 signaling also cross-talks with metabolic signaling systems such as the insulin/Akt pathway as well as with the metabolism of lipids. Moreover, Nrf2 has a protective role in models of diabetic nephropathy.
The emerging role of Nrf2 as an effector of metabolic and longevity signals offers new therapeutic perspectives. The potential impact of pharmacological manipulation of Nrf2 signaling as a strategy for the prevention and treatment of metabolic disease can be envisioned.
PMCID: PMC3092636  PMID: 21102319
Nrf2; calorie restriction; aging; insulin signaling; obesity; diabetic nephropathy
24.  Plumbagin, a Novel Nrf2/ARE Activator, Protects Against Cerebral Ischemia 
Journal of neurochemistry  2009;112(5):1316-1326.
Many phytochemicals function as noxious agents that protect plants against insects and other damaging organisms. However, at subtoxic doses the same phytochemicals may activate adaptive cellular stress response pathways that can protect cells against a variety of adverse conditions. We screened a panel of botanical pesticides using cultured human and rodent neuronal cell models, and identified plumbagin as a novel potent activator of the nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2)/antioxidant response element (ARE) pathway. In vitro, plumbagin increases nuclear localization and transcriptional activity of Nrf2, and induces the expression of the Nrf2/ARE-dependent genes, such as heme oxygenase 1 in human neuroblastoma cells. Plumbagin specifically activates the Nrf2/ARE pathway in primary mixed cultures from ARE-human placental alkaline phosphatase reporter mice. Exposure of neuroblastoma cells and primary cortical neurons to plumbagin provides protection against subsequent oxidative and metabolic insults. The neuroprotective effects of plumbagin are abolished by RNA interference-mediated knockdown of Nrf2 expression. In vivo, administration of plumbagin significantly reduces the amount of brain damage and ameliorates associated neurological deficits in a mouse model of focal ischemic stroke. Our findings establish precedence for the identification and characterization of neuroprotective phytochemicals based upon their ability to activate adaptive cellular stress response pathways.
PMCID: PMC2819586  PMID: 20028456
Nrf2/ARE; stroke; neuroprotection; phytochemicals
25.  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

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