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1.  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
2.  Regulation of the Nrf2–Keap1 Antioxidant Response by the Ubiquitin Proteasome System: An Insight into Cullin-Ring Ubiquitin Ligases 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2010;13(11):1699-1712.
Nrf2 is a transcription factor that has emerged as the cell's main defense mechanism against many harmful environmental toxicants and carcinogens. Nrf2 is negatively regulated by Keap1, a substrate adaptor protein for the Cullin3 (Cul3)-containing E3-ligase complex, which targets Nrf2 for ubiquitination and degradation by the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS). Recent evidence suggests that constitutive activation of Nrf2, due to mutations in Keap1 or Nrf2, is prominent in many cancer types and contributes to chemoresistance. Regulation of Nrf2 by the Cul3–Keap1-E3 ligase provides strong evidence that tight regulation of Cullin-ring ligases (CRLs) is imperative to maintain cellular homeostasis. There are seven known Cullin proteins that form various CRL complexes. They are regulated by neddylation/deneddylation, ubiquitination/deubiquitination, CAND1-assisted complex assembly/disassembly, and subunit dimerization. In this review, we will discuss the regulation of each CRL using the Cul3–Keap1-E3 ligase complex as the primary focus. The substrates of CRLs are involved in many signaling pathways. Therefore, deregulation of CRLs affects several cellular processes, including cell cycle arrest, DNA repair, cell proliferation, senescence, and death, which may lead to many human diseases, including cancer. This makes CRLs a promising target for novel cancer drug therapies. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 13, 1699–1712.
PMCID: PMC2966484  PMID: 20486766
3.  Targeted Deletion of Nrf2 Reduces Urethane-Induced Lung Tumor Development in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26590.
Nrf2 is a key transcription factor that regulates cellular redox and defense responses. However, permanent Nrf2 activation in human lung carcinomas promotes pulmonary malignancy and chemoresistance. We tested the hypothesis that Nrf2 has cell survival properties and lack of Nrf2 suppresses chemically-induced pulmonary neoplasia by treating Nrf2+/+ and Nrf2-/- mice with urethane. Airway inflammation and injury were assessed by bronchoalveolar lavage analyses and histopathology, and lung tumors were analyzed by gross and histologic analysis. We used transcriptomics to assess Nrf2-dependent changes in pulmonary gene transcripts at multiple stages of neoplasia. Lung hyperpermeability, cell death and apoptosis, and inflammatory cell infiltration were significantly higher in Nrf2-/- mice compared to Nrf2+/+ mice 9 and 11 wk after urethane. Significantly fewer lung adenomas were found in Nrf2-/- mice than in Nrf2+/+ mice at 12 and 22 wk. Nrf2 modulated expression of genes involved cell-cell signaling, glutathione metabolism and oxidative stress response, and immune responses during early stage neoplasia. In lung tumors, Nrf2-altered genes had roles in transcriptional regulation of cell cycle and proliferation, carcinogenesis, organismal injury and abnormalities, xenobiotic metabolism, and cell-cell signaling genes. Collectively, Nrf2 deficiency decreased susceptibility to urethane-induced lung tumorigenesis in mice. Cell survival properties of Nrf2 were supported, at least in part, by reduced early death of initiated cells and heightened advantage for tumor cell expansion in Nrf2+/+ mice relative to Nrf2-/- mice. Our results were consistent with the concept that Nrf2 over-activation is an adaptive response of cancer conferring resistance to anti-cancer drugs and promoting malignancy.
PMCID: PMC3198791  PMID: 22039513
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  Gain of Nrf2 Function in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer Cells Confers Radioresistance 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2010;13(11):1627-1637.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (Nrf2), a redox-sensitive transcription factor, regulates the expression of antioxidant enzymes and several anti-apoptotic proteins, which confer cytoprotection against oxidative stress and apoptosis. Constitutive activation of Nrf2 in lung cancer cells promotes tumorigenicity and contributes to chemoresistance by upregulation of glutathione, thioredoxin, and the drug efflux pathways involved in detoxification of electrophiles and broad spectrum of drugs. In this study, we show that RNAi-mediated lowering of Nrf2 levels in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines (A549 and H460) led to a dramatic increase in endogenous reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels. Similarly, γ-irradiation-induced formation of protein carbonyls were significantly higher in Nrf2-depleted lung cancer cells, suggesting increased lethality of ionizing radiation in the absence of Nrf2. Radiation-induced protein oxidation in Nrf2shRNA cells correlated with reduced survival as measured by clonogenic assay. Radiation-induced cell death was abrogated by pretreatment with antioxidants such as N-acetyl-L-cysteine, glutathione, and vitamin-E, highlighting the importance of antioxidants in conferring protection against radiation injury. Using genetically-modified gain and loss of function models of Nrf2, in mouse embryonic fibroblasts, we establish that constitutive activation of Nrf2 protects against ionizing radiation toxicity and confers radioresistance. Thus, targeting Nrf2 activity in radioresistant tumors could be a promising strategy to circumvent radioresistance. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 13, 1627–1637.
PMCID: PMC3541552  PMID: 20446773
8.  RNAi mediated silencing of Nrf2 gene expression in non-small cell lung cancer inhibits tumor growth and increases efficacy of chemotherapy 
Cancer research  2008;68(19):7975-7984.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor-2 (Nrf2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that regulates the expression of electrophile and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes and efflux proteins, which confer cytoprotection against oxidative stress and apoptosis in normal cells. Loss of function mutations in the Nrf2 inhibitor, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein (Keap1), results in constitutive activation of Nrf2 function in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In this study, we demonstrate that constitutive activation of Nrf2 in lung cancer cells promotes tumorigenicity and contributes to chemoresistance by upregulation of glutathione, thioredoxin and the drug efflux pathways involved in detoxification of electrophiles and broad spectrum of drugs. RNAi-mediated reduction of Nrf2 expression in lung cancer cells induces generation of reactive oxygen species, suppresses tumor growth and results in increased sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drug induced cell death in vitro and in vivo. Inhibiting Nrf2 expression using naked siRNA duplexes in combination with carboplatin significantly inhibits tumor growth in a subcutaneous model of lung cancer. Thus, targeting Nrf2 activity in lung cancers, particularly those with Keap1 mutations, could be a promising strategy to inhibit tumor growth and circumvent chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC3070411  PMID: 18829555
Nrf2; Keap1; lung cancer; drug resistance; ROS; RNAi
9.  Nrf2-regulated glutathione recycling independent of biosynthesis is critical for cell survival during oxidative stress 
Free radical biology & medicine  2008;46(4):443-453.
Nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is the primary transcription factor protecting cells from oxidative stress by regulating cytoprotective genes, including the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) pathway. GSH maintains cellular redox status and affects redox signaling, cell proliferation, and death. GSH homeostasis is regulated by de novo synthesis as well as GSH redox state; previous studies have demonstrated that Nrf2 regulates GSH homeostasis by affecting de novo synthesis. We report that Nrf2 modulates the GSH redox state by regulating glutathione reductase (GSR). In response to oxidants, lungs and embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) from Nrf2-deficient (Nrf2−/−) mice showed lower levels of GSR mRNA, protein, and enzyme activity relative to wild type (Nrf2+/+). Nrf2−/− MEFs exhibited greater accumulation of glutathione disulfide and cytotoxicity compared to Nrf2+/+ MEFs in response to t-butylhydroquinone, which was rescued by restoring GSR. Microinjection of glutathione disulfide induced greater apoptosis in Nrf2−/− MEFs compared to Nrf2+/+ MEFs. In silico promoter analysis of the GSR gene revealed three putative antioxidant-response elements (ARE1, −44; ARE2, −813; ARE3, −1041). Reporter analysis, site-directed mutagenesis, and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrated binding of Nrf2 to two AREs distal to the transcription start site. Overall, Nrf2 is critical for maintaining the GSH redox state via transcriptional regulation of GSR and protecting cells against oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC2634824  PMID: 19028565
Nrf2; Oxidative stress; Glutathione; Glutathione reductase; Cigarette smoke; COPD; Emphysema; Free radicals
10.  Nrf2 expression in endometrial serous carcinomas and its precancers 
Endometrial serous carcinoma (ESC) is the most aggressive subtype of endometrial cancer. Its aggressive behavior and poor clinical outcome may be partially attributed to lack of early diagnostic markers and unclear patho-genesis. The transcription factor Erythroid–E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a recently identified protein marker, which plays a role in carcinogenesis as well as responsible for poor prognosis of many human cancers. The aim of this study is to determine the Nrf2 expression in benign endometrium (n=28), endometrial cancers (n=122) as well as their precursor lesions (n=81) trying to see whether Nrf2 has any diagnostic usage and is potentially involved in endometrial carcinogenesis. The level of Nrf2 was evaluated by immunohistochemical (IHC) and verified by using Western blots. Among the malignant cases, Nrf2 was positive in 28 (68%) of 50 ESCs, which was significantly more than in 3 (6%) of 50 endometrioid carcinomas (p < 0.001) and 2 (13%) of 15 clear cell carcinomas (p = 0.001) and other histologic types of endometrial cancers. Among endometrial precursor lesions, both serous endometrial glandular dysplasia (EmGD, 40%) and serous endometrial intraepithelial carcinoma (EIC, 44%) showed a significantly higher Nrf2 expression than that in atypical endometrial hyperplasia or endometrial intraepithelial neoplasia (0%), clear cell EmGD (10%), and clear cell EIC (25%), respectively. We conclude that Nrf2 overexpression is closely associated with endometrial neoplasms with serous differentiation. Alteration of Nrf2 expression may represent one of the early molecular events in ESC carcinogenesis and overexpression of Nrf2 may used as a diagnostic marker in surgical pathology.
PMCID: PMC3016106  PMID: 21228930
Nrf2; endometrial cancer; precancer; endometrial serous carcinoma; endometrial glandular dysplasia
11.  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
12.  Enhanced 4-Hydroxynonenal Resistance in KEAP1 Silenced Human Colon Cancer Cells 
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2) is the transcription factor that regulates an array of antioxidant/detoxifying genes for cellular defense. The conformational changes of Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1), a cytosolic repressor protein of NRF2, by various stimuli result in NRF2 liberation and accumulation in the nucleus. In the present study, we aimed to investigate the effect of KEAP1 knockdown on NRF2 target gene expression and its toxicological implication using human colon cancer cells. The stable KEAP1-knockdown HT29 cells exhibit elevated levels of NRF2 and its target gene expressions. In particular, the mRNA levels of aldo-keto reductases (AKR1C1, 1C2, 1C3, 1B1, and 1B10) were substantially increased in KEAP1 silenced HT29 cells. These differential AKRs expressions appear to contribute to protection against oxidative stress. The KEAP1-knockdown cells were relatively more resistant to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE) compared to the control cells. Accordantly, we observed accumulation of 4HNE protein adducts in H2O2- or 4HNE-treated control cells, whereas KEAP1-knockdown cells did not increase adduct formation. The treatment of KEAP1-silenced cells with AKR1C inhibitor flufenamic acid increased 4HNE-induced cellular toxicity and protein adduct formation. Taken together, these results indicate that AKRs, which are NRF2-dependent highly inducible gene clusters, play a role in NRF2-mediated cytoprotection against lipid peroxide toxicity.
PMCID: PMC3674683  PMID: 23766854
13.  The Yin and Yang of Nrf2-Regulated Selenoproteins in Carcinogenesis 
The NF-E2-related factor-2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor which regulates the major cellular defense systems and thereby contributes to the prevention of many diseases including cancer. Selenium deficiency is associated with a higher cancer risk making also this essential trace element a promising candidate for cancer prevention. Two selenoproteins, thioredoxin reductase-1 (TrxR1) and glutathione peroxidase-2 (GPx2), are targets for Nrf2. Selenium deficiency activates Nrf2 as does a TrxR1 knockout making a synergism between both systems plausible. Although this might hold true for healthy cells, the interplay may turn into the opposite in cancer cells. The induction of the detoxifying and antioxidant enzymes by Nrf2 will make cancer cells chemoresistant and will protect them against oxidative damage. The essential role of TrxR1 in maintaining proliferation makes its upregulation in cancer cells detrimental. The anti-inflammatory potential of GPx2 will help to inhibit cancer initiation and inflammation-triggered promotion, but its growth supporting potential will also support tumor growth. This paper considers beneficial and adverse consequences of the activation of Nrf2 and the selenoproteins which appear to depend on the cancer stage.
PMCID: PMC3357939  PMID: 22654914
14.  Oncogene-induced Nrf2 transcription promotes ROS detoxification and tumorigenesis 
Nature  2011;475(7354):106-109.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are mutagenic and may thereby promote cancer1. Normally, ROS levels are tightly controlled by an inducible antioxidant program that responds to cellular stressors and is predominantly regulated by the transcription factor Nrf2 and its repressor protein Keap12-5. In contrast to the acute physiological regulation of Nrf2, in neoplasia there is evidence for increased basal activation of Nrf2. Indeed, somatic mutations that disrupt the Nrf2-Keap1 interaction to stabilize Nrf2 and increase the constitutive transcription of Nrf2 target genes were recently identified, suggesting that enhanced ROS detoxification and additional Nrf2 functions may in fact be pro-tumorigenic6. Here, we investigated ROS metabolism in primary murine cells following the expression of endogenous oncogenic alleles of K-Ras, B-Raf and Myc, and find that ROS are actively suppressed by these oncogenes. K-RasG12D, B-RafV619E and MycERT2 each increased the transcription of Nrf2 to stably elevate the basal Nrf2 antioxidant program and thereby lower intracellular ROS and confer a more reduced intracellular environment. Oncogene-directed increased expression of Nrf2 is a novel mechanism for the activation of the Nrf2 antioxidant program, and is evident in primary cells and tissues of mice expressing K-RasG12D and B-RafV619E, and in human pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, genetic targeting of the Nrf2 pathway impairs K-RasG12D-induced proliferation and tumorigenesis in vivo. Thus, the Nrf2 antioxidant and cellular detoxification program represents a previously unappreciated mediator of oncogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3404470  PMID: 21734707
15.  Deficiency in Nrf2-GSH Signaling Impairs Type II Cell Growth and Enhances Sensitivity to Oxidants 
Redox imbalance has been implicated in the pathogenesis of many acute and chronic lung diseases. The b-Zip transcription factor Nrf2 acts via an antioxidant/electrophilic response element to regulate antioxidants and maintain cellular redox homeostasis. Our previous studies have shown that Nrf2-deficient mice (Nrf2−/−) show reduced pulmonary expression of several antioxidant enzymes, which renders them highly susceptible to hyperoxia-induced lung injury. To better understand the physiologic significance of Nrf2-induced redox signaling, we have used primary cells isolated from the lungs of Nrf2+/+ and Nrf2−/− mice. Our studies were focused on type II cells because these cells are constantly exposed to the oxidant environment and play key roles in host defense, injury, and repair processes. Using this system, we now report that an Nrf2 deficiency leads to defects in type II cell proliferation and greatly enhances the cells' sensitivity to oxidant-induced cell death. These defects were closely associated with high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and redox imbalance in Nrf2−/− cells. Glutathione (GSH) supplementation rescued these phenotypic defects associated with the Nrf2 deficiency. Intriguingly, although the antioxidant N-acetyl-cysteine drastically squelched ROS levels, it was unable to counteract growth arrest in Nrf2−/− cells. Moreover, despite their elevated levels of ROS, Nrf2−/− type II cells were viable and, like their wild-type counterparts, exhibited normal differentiation characteristics. Our data suggest that dysfunctional Nrf2-regulated GSH-induced signaling is associated with deregulation of type II cell proliferation, which contributes to abnormal injury and repair and leads to respiratory impairment.
PMCID: PMC1899352  PMID: 17413030
oxidative stress; lung; antioxidants; cell proliferation
16.  Redox regulation by Keap1 and Nrf2 controls intestinal stem cell proliferation in Drosophila 
Cell stem cell  2011;8(2):188-199.
In Drosophila, intestinal stem cells (ISCs) respond to oxidative challenges and inflammation by increasing proliferation rates. This phenotype is part of a regenerative response, but can lead to hyperproliferation and epithelial degeneration in the aging animal. Here we show that Nrf2, a master regulator of the cellular redox state, specifically controls the proliferative activity of ISCs, promoting intestinal homeostasis. We find that Nrf2 is constitutively active in ISCs, and that repression of Nrf2 by its negative regulator Keap1 is required for ISC proliferation. We further show that Nrf2 and Keap1 exert this function in ISCs by regulating the intracellular redox balance. Accordingly, loss of Nrf2 in ISCs causes accumulation of reactive oxygen species and accelerates age-related degeneration of the intestinal epithelium. Our findings establish Keap1 and Nrf2 as a critical redox management system that regulates stem cell function in high-turnover tissues.
PMCID: PMC3035938  PMID: 21295275
17.  The Keap1-Nrf2 pathway: Mechanisms of activation and dysregulation in cancer☆ 
Redox Biology  2013;1(1):45-49.
The Keap1-Nrf2 pathway is the major regulator of cytoprotective responses to oxidative and electrophilic stress. Although cell signaling pathways triggered by the transcription factor Nrf2 prevent cancer initiation and progression in normal and premalignant tissues, in fully malignant cells Nrf2 activity provides growth advantage by increasing cancer chemoresistance and enhancing tumor cell growth. In this graphical review, we provide an overview of the Keap1-Nrf2 pathway and its dysregulation in cancer cells. We also briefly summarize the consequences of constitutive Nrf2 activation in cancer cells and how this can be exploited in cancer gene therapy.
PMCID: PMC3757665  PMID: 24024136
Nrf2; Keap1; Cancer; Antioxidant response element; Gene therapy
18.  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
19.  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
20.  Keap1 Controls Postinduction Repression of the Nrf2-Mediated Antioxidant Response by Escorting Nuclear Export of Nrf2▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(18):6334-6349.
The transcription factor Nrf2 regulates cellular redox homeostasis. Under basal conditions, Keap1 recruits Nrf2 into the Cul3-containing E3 ubiquitin ligase complex for ubiquitin conjugation and subsequent proteasomal degradation. Oxidative stress triggers activation of Nrf2 through inhibition of E3 ubiquitin ligase activity, resulting in increased levels of Nrf2 and transcriptional activation of Nrf2-dependent genes. In this study, we identify Keap1 as a key postinduction repressor of Nrf2 and demonstrate that a nuclear export sequence (NES) in Keap1 is required for termination of Nrf2-antioxidant response element (ARE) signaling by escorting nuclear export of Nrf2. We provide evidence that ubiquitination of Nrf2 is carried out in the cytosol. Furthermore, we show that Keap1 nuclear translocation is independent of Nrf2 and the Nrf2-Keap1 complex does not bind the ARE. Collectively, our results suggest the following mechanism of postinduction repression: upon recovery of cellular redox homeostasis, Keap1 translocates into the nucleus to dissociate Nrf2 from the ARE. The Nrf2-Keap1 complex is then transported out of the nucleus by the NES in Keap1. Once in the cytoplasm, the Keap1-Nrf2 complex associates with the E3 ubiquitin ligase, resulting in degradation of Nrf2 and termination of the Nrf2 signaling pathway. Hence, postinduction repression of the Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response is controlled by the nuclear export function of Keap1 in alliance with the cytoplasmic ubiquitination and degradation machinery.
PMCID: PMC2099624  PMID: 17636022
21.  Sulforaphane inhibits 4-aminobiphenyl-induced DNA damage in bladder cells and tissues 
Carcinogenesis  2010;31(11):1999-2003.
Sulforaphane (SF) is a well-known chemopreventive phytochemical and occurs in broccoli and to a lesser extent in other cruciferous vegetables, whereas 4-aminobiphenyl (ABP) is a major human bladder carcinogen and is present at significant levels in tobacco smoke. Here, we show that SF inhibits ABP-induced DNA damage in both human bladder cells in vitro and mouse bladder tissue in vivo, using dG-C8-ABP as a biomarker, which is the predominant ABP-DNA adduct formed in human bladder cells and tissues. SF activates NF-E2 related factor-2 (Nrf2), which is a well-recognized chemopreventive target and activates the Nrf2-regulated cytoprotective signaling pathway. Comparison between wild-type mice and mice without Nrf2 shows that Nrf2 activation is required by SF for inhibition of ABP-induced DNA damage. Moreover, Nrf2 activation by SF in the bladder occurs primarily in the epithelium, which is the principal site of bladder cancer development. These data, together with our recent observation that SF-enriched broccoli sprout extracts strongly inhibits N-butyl-N-(4-hydroxybutyl)nitrosamine-induced bladder cancer development, suggest that SF is a highly promising agent for bladder cancer prevention and provides a mechanistic insight into the repeated epidemiological observation that consumption of broccoli is inversely associated with bladder cancer risk and mortality.
PMCID: PMC2966557  PMID: 20810543
22.  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
23.  Glucose availability is a decisive factor for Nrf2-mediated gene expression☆ 
Redox Biology  2013;1(1):359-365.
Activation of the transcription factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related factor 2) is one of the major cellular defense lines against oxidative and xenobiotic stress, but also influences genes involved in lipid and glucose metabolism. It is unresolved whether the cytoprotective and metabolic responses mediated by Nrf2 are connected or separable events in non-malignant cells. In this study we show that activation of Nrf2, either by the small molecule sulforaphane or knockout of the Nrf2 inhibitor Keap1, leads to increased cellular glucose uptake and increased glucose addiction in fibroblasts. Upon Nrf2 activation glucose is preferentially metabolized through the pentose phosphate pathway with increased production of NADPH. Interference with the supply of glucose or the pentose phosphate pathway and NADPH generation not only hampers Nrf2-mediated detoxification of reactive oxygen species on the enzyme level but also Nrf2-initiated expression of antioxidant defense proteins, such as glutathione reductase and heme-oxygenase1. We conclude that the Nrf2-dependent protection against oxidative stress relies on an intact pentose phosphate pathway and that there is crosstalk between metabolism and detoxification already at the level of gene expression in mammalian cells.
Graphical abstract
•Activation of Nrf2 results in increased cellular glucose uptake.•Upon activation of Nrf2 glucose is preferentially metabolized through the PPP.•The resulting increase in NADPH is not only pivotal for functional detoxification of ROS, but also for Nrf2-dependent gene expression in mammalian cells.•These data complement our understanding of the metabolic shade of Nrf2 action.
PMCID: PMC3757705  PMID: 24024172
3BP, 3-bromopyruvate; ATP, adenosine triphosphate; ctrl, control; DCF, dichloroflourescein; DHEA, dehydroandrostendione; DMSO, dimethylsulfoxide; G6PD, glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase; Glut1, glucose transporter 1; GR, glutathione reductase; HO-1, heme oxygenase-1; Keap1, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein1; NADP, nicotine adenine dinucleotide phosphate; Nrf2, nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related factor 2; NQO1, NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1; Maf, small masculoaponeurotic fibrosarcoma; MEF, mouse embryonic fibroblasts; OXPHOS, oxidative phosphorylation; PBS, phosphate buffered saline; PPP, pentose phosphate pathway; ROS, reactive oxygen species; SFN, sulforaphane; WT, wild type; Nrf2; Glucose addiction; ROS detoxification
24.  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
25.  Arsenic-induced malignant transformation of human keratinocytes: Involvement of Nrf2 
Free radical biology & medicine  2008;45(5):651-658.
Arsenic is a well-known human skin carcinogen but the underlying mechanisms of carcinogenesis are unclear. Transcription factor Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response represents a critical cellular defense mechanism, and emerging data suggest that constitutive activation of Nrf2 contributes to malignant phenotype. In the present study when an immortalized, non-tumorigenic human keratinocyte cell line (HaCaT) was continuously exposed to environmentally relevant level of inorganic arsenite (100 nM) for 28 weeks, malignant transformation occurred as evidenced by the formation of highly aggressive squamous cell carcinoma after inoculation into nude mice. To investigate the mechanisms involved, a broad array of biomarkers for transformation were assessed in these arsenic-transformed cells (termed As-TM). In addition to increased secretion of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), a set of markers for squamous differentiation and skin keratinization, including keratin-1, keratin-10, involucrin, and loricrin, were significantly elevated in As-TM cells. Furthermore, As-TM cells showed increased intracellular glutathione, elevated expression of Nrf2 and its target genes, as well as generalized apoptotic resistance. In contrast to increased basal Nrf2 activity in As-TM cells, a diminished Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response induced by acute exposure to high dose of arsenite or tert-butyl hydroxyquinone occurred. The findings that multiple biomarkers for malignant transformation observed in As-TM cells, including MMP-9 and cytokeratins, are potentially regulated by Nrf2 suggest constitutive Nrf2 activation may be involved in arsenic carcinogenesis of skin. The weakened Nrf2 activation in response to oxidative stressors observed in As-TM cells, coupled with acquired apoptotic resistance, would potentially have increased the likelihood of transmittable oxidative DNA damage and fixation of mutational/DNA damage events.
PMCID: PMC2658531  PMID: 18572023
Arsenic; Carcinogenesis; Nrf2; Oxidative stress; CK2

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