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1.  The Keap1–Nrf2 system in cancers: stress response and anabolic metabolism 
Frontiers in Oncology  2012;2:200.
The Keap1–Nrf2 [Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1–nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2] pathway plays a central role in the protection of cells against oxidative and xenobiotic stresses. Nrf2 is a potent transcription activator that recognizes a unique DNA sequence known as the antioxidant response element (ARE). Under normal conditions, Nrf2 binds to Keap1 in the cytoplasm, resulting in proteasomal degradation. Following exposure to electrophiles or reactive oxygen species, Nrf2 becomes stabilized, translocates into the nucleus, and activates the transcription of various cytoprotective genes. Increasing attention has been paid to the role of Nrf2 in cancer cells because the constitutive stabilization of Nrf2 has been observed in many human cancers with poor prognosis. Recent studies have shown that the antioxidant and detoxification activities of Nrf2 confer chemo- and radio-resistance to cancer cells. In this review, we provide an overview of the Keap1–Nrf2 system and discuss its role under physiological and pathological conditions, including cancers. We also introduce the results of our recent study describing Nrf2 function in the metabolism of cancer cells. Nrf2 likely confers a growth advantage to cancer cells through enhancing cytoprotection and anabolism. Finally, we discuss the possible impact of Nrf2 inhibitors on cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3530133  PMID: 23272301
stress response; redox homeostasis; transcription; purine nucleotide; glutathione
2.  Mechanism of Chemical Activation of Nrf2 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35122.
NF-E2 related factor-2 (Nrf2) promotes the transcription of many cytoprotective genes and is a major drug target for prevention of cancer and other diseases. Indeed, the cancer-preventive activities of several well-known chemical agents were shown to depend on Nrf2 activation. It is well known that chemopreventive Nrf2 activators stabilize Nrf2 by blocking its ubiquitination, but previous studies have indicated that this process occurs exclusively in the cytoplasm. Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1) binds to Nrf2 and orchestrates Nrf2 ubiquitination, and it has been a widely-held view that inhibition of Nrf2 ubiquitination by chemopreventive agents results from the dissociation of Nrf2 from its repressor Keap1. Here, we show that while the activation of Nrf2 by prototypical chemical activators, including 5,6-dihydrocyclopenta-1,2-dithiole-3-thione (CPDT) and sulforaphane (SF), results solely from inhibition of its ubiquitination, such inhibition occurs predominantly in the nucleus. Moreover, the Nrf2 activators promote Nrf2 association with Keap1, rather than disassociation, which appears to result from inhibition of Nrf2 phosphorylation at Ser40. Available evidence suggests the Nrf2 activators may block Nrf2 ubiquitination by altering Keap1 conformation via reaction with the thiols of specific Keap1 cysteines. We further show that while the inhibitory effects of CPDT and SF on Nrf2 ubiquitination depend entirely on Keap1, Nrf2 is also degraded by a Keap1-independent mechanism. These findings provide significant new insight about Nrf2 activation and suggest that exogenous chemical activators of Nrf2 enter the nucleus to exert most of their inhibitory impact on Nrf2 ubiquitination and degradation.
PMCID: PMC3338841  PMID: 22558124
3.  Dysfunctional KEAP1–NRF2 Interaction in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e420.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that positively regulates the expression of genes encoding antioxidants, xenobiotic detoxification enzymes, and drug efflux pumps, and confers cytoprotection against oxidative stress and xenobiotics in normal cells. Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1) negatively regulates NRF2 activity by targeting it to proteasomal degradation. Increased expression of cellular antioxidants and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes has been implicated in resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Methods and Findings
Here we report a systematic analysis of the KEAP1 genomic locus in lung cancer patients and cell lines that revealed deletion, insertion, and missense mutations in functionally important domains of KEAP1 and a very high percentage of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2, suggesting that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 in lung cancer is a common event. Sequencing of KEAP1 in 12 cell lines and 54 non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) samples revealed somatic mutations in KEAP1 in a total of six cell lines and ten tumors at a frequency of 50% and 19%, respectively. All the mutations were within highly conserved amino acid residues located in the Kelch or intervening region domain of the KEAP1 protein, suggesting that these mutations would likely abolish KEAP1 repressor activity. Evaluation of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2 revealed allelic losses in 61% of the NSCLC cell lines and 41% of the tumor samples. Decreased KEAP1 activity in cancer cells induced greater nuclear accumulation of NRF2, causing enhanced transcriptional induction of antioxidants, xenobiotic metabolism enzymes, and drug efflux pumps.
This is the first study to our knowledge to demonstrate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC. Loss of KEAP1 function leading to constitutive activation of NRF2-mediated gene expression in cancer suggests that tumor cells manipulate the NRF2 pathway for their survival against chemotherapeutic agents.
Biallelic inactivation ofKEAP1, a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC, is associated with activation of the NRF2 pathway which leads to expression of genes that contribute to resistance against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. More than 150,000 people in the US alone die every year from this disease, which can be split into two basic types—small cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Four out of five lung cancers are NSCLCs, but both types are mainly caused by smoking. Exposure to chemicals in smoke produces changes (or mutations) in the genetic material of the cells lining the lungs that cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. In more than half the people who develop NSCLC, the cancer has spread out of the lungs before it is diagnosed, and therefore can't be removed surgically. Stage IV NSCLC, as this is known, is usually treated with chemotherapy—toxic chemicals that kill the fast-growing cancer cells. However, only 2% of people with stage IV NSCLC are still alive two years after their diagnosis, mainly because their cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy. They do this by making proteins that destroy cancer drugs (detoxification enzymes) or that pump them out of cells (efflux pumps) and by making antioxidants, chemicals that protect cells against the oxidative damage caused by many chemotherapy agents.
Why Was This Study Done?
To improve the outlook for patients with lung cancer, researchers need to discover exactly how cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy drugs. Detoxification enzymes, efflux pumps, and antioxidants normally protect cells from environmental toxins and from oxidants produced by the chemical processes of life. Their production is regulated by nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2). The activity of this transcription factor (a protein that controls the expression of other proteins) is controlled by the protein Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1). KEAP1 holds NRF2 in the cytoplasm of the cell (the cytoplasm surrounds the cell's nucleus, where the genetic material is stored) when no oxidants are present and targets it for destruction. When oxidants are present, KEAP1 no longer interacts with NRF2, which moves into the nucleus and induces the expression of the proteins that protect the cell against oxidants and toxins. In this study, the researchers investigated whether changes in KEAP1 might underlie the drug resistance seen in lung cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers looked carefully at the gene encoding KEAP1 in tissue taken from lung tumors and in several lung cancer cell lines—tumor cells that have been grown in a laboratory. They found mutations in parts of KEAP1 known to be important for its function in half the cell lines and a fifth of the tumor samples. They also found that about half of the samples had lost part of one copy of the KEAP1 gene—cells usually have two copies of each gene. Five of the six tumors with KEAP1 mutations had also lost one copy of KEAP1—geneticists call this biallelic inactivation. This means that these tumors should have no functional KEAP1. When the researchers checked this by staining the tumors for NRF2, they found that the tumor cells had more NRF2 than normal cells and that it accumulated in the nucleus. In addition, the tumor cells made more detoxification enzymes, efflux proteins, and antioxidants than normal cells. Finally, the researchers showed that lung cancer cells with KEAP1 mutations were more resistant to chemotherapy drugs than normal lung cells were.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC and suggest that the loss of KEAP1 activity is one way that lung tumors can increase their NRF2 activity and develop resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. More lung cancer samples need to be examined to confirm this result, and similar studies need to be done in other cancers to see whether loss of KEAP1 activity is a common mechanism by which tumors become resistant to chemotherapy. If such studies confirm that high NRF2 activity (either through mutation or by some other route) is often associated with a poor tumor response to chemotherapy, then the development of NRF2 inhibitors might help to improve treatment outcomes in patients with chemotherapy-resistant tumors.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute information on lung cancer and on cancer treatment
MedlinePlus entries on small cell lung cancer and NSCLC Cancer Research UK information on lung cancer
Wikipedia entries on lung cancer and chemotherapy (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1584412  PMID: 17020408
4.  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
5.  Regulatory Nexus of Synthesis and Degradation Deciphers Cellular Nrf2 Expression Levels 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2013;33(12):2402-2412.
Transcription factor Nrf2 (NF-E2-related factor 2) is essential for oxidative and electrophilic stress responses. While it has been well characterized that Nrf2 activity is tightly regulated at the protein level through proteasomal degradation via Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1)-mediated ubiquitination, not much attention has been paid to the supply side of Nrf2, especially regulation of Nrf2 gene transcription. Here we report that manipulation of Nrf2 transcription is effective in changing the final Nrf2 protein level and activity of cellular defense against oxidative stress even in the presence of Keap1 and under efficient Nrf2 degradation, determined using genetically engineered mouse models. In excellent agreement with this finding, we found that minor A/A homozygotes of a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the human NRF2 upstream promoter region (rs6721961) exhibited significantly diminished NRF2 gene expression and, consequently, an increased risk of lung cancer, especially those who had ever smoked. Our results support the notion that in addition to control over proteasomal degradation and derepression from degradation/repression, the transcriptional level of the Nrf2 gene acts as another important regulatory point to define cellular Nrf2 levels. These results thus verify the critical importance of human SNPs that influence the levels of transcription of the NRF2 gene for future personalized medicine.
PMCID: PMC3700104  PMID: 23572560
6.  Pathophysiological processes in multiple sclerosis: focus on nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 and emerging pathways 
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system that is characterized by the demyelination of neuronal axons. Four different patterns of demyelination have been described, showing the heterogeneity in the immunopathologic processes involved in the demyelination. This review will focus on reactive oxygen species (ROS)-related inflammation in MS. Special emphasis will be placed on the nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) as it regulates the transcription of ROS-protective genes. In the cytosol, Nrf2 binds to Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1), and together they are degraded by the 26S proteasome after ubiquitination. If challenged by ROS Nrf2, binding to Keap1 is abrogated, and it translocates into the nucleus. Here it binds to the antioxidant response element and to a small protein termed Maf (musculoaponeurotic fibrosarcoma oncogene homolog). This leads to an enhanced transcription of ROS protective genes and represents the physiological answer against ROS challenge. It has been shown that dimethyl fumarate (DMF) has the same effect and leads to an enhanced transcription of ROS-protective genes. This response is mediated through a reduced binding of Nrf2 to Keap1, thus resulting in a higher level of free Nrf2 in the cytosol. Consequently, more Nrf2 translocates to the nucleus, promoting transcription of its target genes. DMF has been used for the treatment of psoriasis for many years in Germany without the occurrence of major side effects. In psoriasis, DMF reduces ROS-related inflammation in skin. A DMF analog, BG-12, was recently approved for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS by the European Union and the US Food and Drug Administration. As an oral formulation, it gives patients a convenient and effective alternative to the injectable immune modulators in the long-term treatment of MS.
PMCID: PMC3938468  PMID: 24591852
MS; fumaric acid ester; ROS
7.  Activation of the Nrf2-ARE pathway by siRNA knockdown of Keap1 reduces oxidative stress and provides partial protection from MPTP-mediated neurotoxicity 
Neurotoxicology  2012;33(3):272-279.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that binds to the antioxidant response element, a cis-acting regulatory element that increases expression of detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant proteins. Kelch-like ECH associating protein 1 (Keap1) protein is a negative regulator of Nrf2. Previous work has shown that genetic overexpression of Nrf2 is protective in vitro and in vivo. To modulate the Nrf2-ARE system without overexpressing Nrf2, we used short interfering RNA (siRNA) directed against Keap1. Keap1 siRNA administration in primary astrocytes increased the levels of Nrf2-ARE driven genes and protected against oxidative stress. Moreover, Keap1 siRNA resulted in a persistent upregulation of the Nrf2-ARE pathway and protection against oxidative stress in primary astrocytes. Keap1 siRNA injected into the striatum was also modestly protective against MPTP-induced dopaminergic terminal damage. These data indicate that activation of endogenous intracellular levels of Nrf2 is sufficient to protect in models of oxidative stress and Parkinson's disease.
PMCID: PMC3521526  PMID: 22342405
8.  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
9.  MiR-28 regulates Nrf2 expression through a Keap1-independent mechanism 
NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is an important transcription factor involved in antioxidant response. Nrf2 binds antioxidant response elements (ARE) within promoters of genes encoding detoxification enzymes (e.g., NAD (P) H-quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1)) leading to their transcriptional activation. Nrf2 function is regulated post-translationally by its negative regulator Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1) that binds Nrf2 and induces cytoplasmic Nrf2 degradation. Our present studies provide new evidence that Nrf2 expression can be regulated by a Keap1-independent mechanism. Here, we utilized breast epithelial cells to explore the impact of microRNA (miRNA) on Nrf2 expression. We found that Nrf2 mRNA levels are reversibly correlated with miR-28 expression and that ectopic expression of miR-28 alone reduces Nrf2 mRNA and protein levels. We further investigated the molecular mechanisms by which miR-28 inhibits Nrf2 mRNA expression. Initially, the ability of miR-28 to regulate the 3′ untranslated region (3′UTR) of Nrf2 mRNA was evaluated via luciferase reporter assay. We observed that miR-28 reduces wild-type Nrf2 3′UTR luciferase reporter activity and this repression is eliminated upon mutation of the miR-28 targeting seed sequence within the Nrf2 3′UTR. Moreover, over-expression of miR-28 decreased endogenous Nrf2 mRNA and protein expression. We also explored the impact of miR-28 on Keap1-Nrf2 interactions and found that miR-28 overexpression does not alter Keap1 protein levels and has no effect on the interaction of Keap1 and Nrf2. Our findings, that miR-28 targets the 3′UTR of Nrf2 mRNA and decreases Nrf2 expression, suggest that this miRNA is involved in the regulation of Nrf2 expression in breast epithelial cells.
PMCID: PMC3752913  PMID: 21638050
Mammary epithelial cells; miR-28; Nrf2; Chemoprevention
10.  Effect of Graded Nrf2 Activation on Phase-I and -II Drug Metabolizing Enzymes and Transporters in Mouse Liver 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e39006.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that induces a battery of cytoprotective genes in response to oxidative/electrophilic stress. Kelch-like ECH associating protein 1 (Keap1) sequesters Nrf2 in the cytosol. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of Nrf2 in regulating the mRNA of genes encoding drug metabolizing enzymes and xenobiotic transporters. Microarray analysis was performed in livers of Nrf2-null, wild-type, Keap1-knockdown mice with increased Nrf2 activation, and Keap1-hepatocyte knockout mice with maximum Nrf2 activation. In general, Nrf2 did not have a marked effect on uptake transporters, but the mRNAs of organic anion transporting polypeptide 1a1, sodium taurocholate cotransporting polypeptide, and organic anion transporter 2 were decreased with Nrf2 activation. The effect of Nrf2 on cytochrome P450 (Cyp) genes was minimal, with only Cyp2a5, Cyp2c50, Cyp2c54, and Cyp2g1 increased, and Cyp2u1 decreased with enhanced Nrf2 activation. However, Nrf2 increased mRNA of many other phase-I enzymes, such as aldo-keto reductases, carbonyl reductases, and aldehyde dehydrogenase 1. Many genes involved in phase-II drug metabolism were induced by Nrf2, including glutathione S-transferases, UDP- glucuronosyltransferases, and UDP-glucuronic acid synthesis enzymes. Efflux transporters, such as multidrug resistance-associated proteins, breast cancer resistant protein, as well as ATP-binding cassette g5 and g8 were induced by Nrf2. In conclusion, Nrf2 markedly alters hepatic mRNA of a large number of drug metabolizing enzymes and xenobiotic transporters, and thus Nrf2 plays a central role in xenobiotic metabolism and detoxification.
PMCID: PMC3395627  PMID: 22808024
11.  Roles Nrf2 Plays in Myeloid Cells and Related Disorders 
The Keap1-Nrf2 system protects animals from oxidative and electrophilic stresses. Nrf2 is a transcription factor that induces the expression of genes essential for detoxifying reactive oxygen species (ROS) and cytotoxic electrophiles. Keap1 is a stress sensor protein that binds to and ubiquitinates Nrf2 under unstressed conditions, leading to the rapid proteasomal degradation of Nrf2. Upon exposure to stress, Keap1 is modified and inactivated, which allows Nrf2 to accumulate and activate the transcription of a battery of cytoprotective genes. Antioxidative and detoxification activities are important for many types of cells to avoid DNA damage and cell death. Accumulating lines of recent evidence suggest that Nrf2 is also required for the primary functions of myeloid cells, which include phagocytosis, inflammation regulation, and ROS generation for bactericidal activities. In fact, results from several mouse models have shown that Nrf2 expression in myeloid cells is required for the proper regulation of inflammation, antitumor immunity, and atherosclerosis. Moreover, several molecules generated upon inflammation activate Nrf2. Although ROS detoxification mediated by Nrf2 is assumed to be required for anti-inflammation, the entire picture of the Nrf2-mediated regulation of myeloid cell primary functions has yet to be elucidated. In this review, we describe the Nrf2 inducers characteristic of myeloid cells and the contributions of Nrf2 to diseases.
PMCID: PMC3684031  PMID: 23819012
12.  Regulation of NF-E2-Related Factor 2 Signaling for Cancer Chemoprevention: Antioxidant Coupled with Antiinflammatory 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2010;13(11):1679-1698.
Cancer chemoprevention is a process of using either natural or synthetic compounds to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Observations that NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2)-deficient mice lack response to some chemopreventive agents point to the important role of Nrf2 in chemoprevention. Nrf2 is a member of basic-leucine zipper transcription factor family and has been shown to regulate gene expression by binding to a response element, antioxidant responsive element. It is generally believed that activation of Nrf2 signaling is an adaptive response to the environmental and endogenous stresses. Under homeostatic conditions, Nrf2 is suppressed by association with Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), but is stimulated upon exposure to oxidative or electrophilic stress. Once activated, Nrf2 translocates into nuclei and upregulates a group of genes that act in concert to combat oxidative stress. Nrf2 is also shown to have protective function against inflammation, a pathological process that could contribute to carcinogenesis. In this review, we will discuss the current progress in the study of Nrf2 signaling, in particular, the mechanisms of Nrf2 activation by chemopreventive agents. We will also discuss some of the potential caveats of Nrf2 in cancer treatment and future opportunity and challenges on regulation of Nrf2-mediated antioxidant and antiinflammatory signaling in the context of cancer prevention. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 13, 1679–1698.
PMCID: PMC2966483  PMID: 20486765
13.  KPNA6 (Importin α7)-Mediated Nuclear Import of Keap1 Represses the Nrf2-Dependent Antioxidant Response ▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2011;31(9):1800-1811.
The transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a master regulator of cellular redox homeostasis. As an adaptive response to oxidative stress, Nrf2 activates the transcription of a battery of genes encoding antioxidants, detoxification enzymes, and xenobiotic transporters by binding the cis-antioxidant response element in the promoter regions of genes. The magnitude and duration of inducible Nrf2 signaling is delicately controlled at multiple levels by Keap1, which targets Nrf2 for redox-sensitive ubiquitin-mediated degradation in the cytoplasm and exports Nrf2 from the nucleus. However, it is not clear how Keap1 gains access to the nucleus. In this study, we show that Keap1 is constantly shuttling between the nucleus and the cytoplasm under physiological conditions. The nuclear import of Keap1 requires its C-terminal Kelch domain and is independent of Nrf1 and Nrf2. We have determined that importin α7, also known as karyopherin α6 (KPNA6), directly interacts with the Kelch domain of Keap1. Overexpression of KPNA6 facilitates Keap1 nuclear import and attenuates Nrf2 signaling, whereas knockdown of KPNA6 slows down Keap1 nuclear import and enhances the Nrf2-mediated adaptive response induced by oxidative stress. Furthermore, KPNA6 accelerates the clearance of Nrf2 protein from the nucleus during the postinduction phase, therefore promoting restoration of the Nrf2 protein to basal levels. These findings demonstrate that KPNA6-mediated Keap1 nuclear import plays an essential role in modulating the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response and maintaining cellular redox homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3133232  PMID: 21383067
14.  Conditioned Media Downregulates Nuclear Expression of Nrf2 
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor-2 (Nrf2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that activates several antioxidant and cytoprotective genes in response to oxidative stress. The role of Nrf2 activators and the intracellular regulation of Nrf2 have been studied extensively. In comparison, little is known about the self-regulation of Nrf2 due to experimental techniques commonly used to synchronize cellular signaling. Here we report that endogenous Nrf2 was downregulated in the nucleus of HeLa and MDA-MB-231 cells serum starved for 24hrs. Nrf2 expression was rescued by the addition of unconditioned media irrespective of its serum content. No concomitant change was observed in the expression of the primary inhibitor of Nrf2, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein-1 (Keap1). Nrf2 was upregulated by tert-butyl hydroquinone, although there was limited increase in Nrf2 in conditioned media-treated cells as compared to unconditioned media-treated cells. Decreasing the fraction of conditioned media in culture resulted in a dose-dependent increase in Nrf2 protein level. Taken together, our data suggests the existence of a complex self-regulatory mechanism for endogenous Nrf2 signaling.
PMCID: PMC3780449  PMID: 24073021
Nrf2; Keap1; conditioned media; starvation; serum-free media; cell synchronization
15.  The Keap1-Nrf2 System Prevents Onset of Diabetes Mellitus 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2013;33(15):2996-3010.
Transcription factor Nrf2 (NF-E2-related factor 2) regulates a broad cytoprotective response to environmental stresses. Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1) is an adaptor protein for cullin3-based ubiquitin E3 ligase and negatively regulates Nrf2. Whereas the Keap1-Nrf2 system plays important roles in oxidative stress response and metabolism, the roles Nrf2 plays in the prevention of diabetes mellitus remain elusive. Here we show that genetic activation of Nrf2 signaling by Keap1 gene hypomorphic knockdown (Keap1flox/−) markedly suppresses the onset of diabetes. When Keap1flox/− mice were crossed with diabetic db/db mice, blood glucose levels became lower through improvement of both insulin secretion and insulin resistance. Keap1flox/− also prevented high-calorie-diet-induced diabetes. Oral administration of the Nrf2 inducer CDDO-Im {oleanolic acid 1-[2-cyano-3,12-dioxooleana-1,9(11)-dien-28-oyl] imidazole} also attenuated diabetes in db/db mice. Nrf2 induction altered antioxidant-, energy consumption-, and gluconeogenesis-related gene expression in metabolic tissues. Thus, the Keap1-Nrf2 system is a critical target for preventing the onset of diabetes mellitus.
PMCID: PMC3719683  PMID: 23716596
16.  Development of a steady-state FRET-based assay to identify inhibitors of the Keap1-Nrf2 protein–protein interaction 
One of the strategies proposed for the chemoprevention of degenerative diseases and cancer involves upregulation of antioxidant and free radical detoxification gene products by increasing the intracellular concentration of the transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). This can be achieved by disrupting the interaction between Nrf2 and Kelch-like ECH associated protein 1 (Keap1), a substrate adaptor protein for a Cul3-dependent E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. Here, we describe the development of a high-throughput fluorescence (or Förster) resonance energy transfer assay for the identification of inhibitors of the Keap1-Nrf2 protein–protein interaction (PPI). The basis of this assay is the binding of a YFP-conjugated Keap1 Kelch binding domain to a CFP-conjugated Nrf2-derived 16-mer peptide containing a highly conserved “ETGE” motif. The competition aspect of the assay was validated using unlabeled Nrf2-derived 7-mer and 16-mer peptides and has potential as a screening tool for small molecule inhibitors of the PPI. We discuss the development of this assay in the context of other methods used to evaluate this PPI.
PMCID: PMC3843635  PMID: 24130096
FRET; Keap1; Nrf2; protein–protein interactions; high-throughput screening
17.  Development of a steady-state FRET-based assay to identify inhibitors of the Keap1-Nrf2 protein–protein interaction 
One of the strategies proposed for the chemoprevention of degenerative diseases and cancer involves upregulation of antioxidant and free radical detoxification gene products by increasing the intracellular concentration of the transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). This can be achieved by disrupting the interaction between Nrf2 and Kelch-like ECH associated protein 1 (Keap1), a substrate adaptor protein for a Cul3-dependent E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. Here, we describe the development of a high-throughput fluorescence (or Förster) resonance energy transfer assay for the identification of inhibitors of the Keap1-Nrf2 protein–protein interaction (PPI). The basis of this assay is the binding of a YFP-conjugated Keap1 Kelch binding domain to a CFP-conjugated Nrf2-derived 16-mer peptide containing a highly conserved “ETGE” motif. The competition aspect of the assay was validated using unlabeled Nrf2-derived 7-mer and 16-mer peptides and has potential as a screening tool for small molecule inhibitors of the PPI. We discuss the development of this assay in the context of other methods used to evaluate this PPI.
PMCID: PMC3843635  PMID: 24130096
FRET; Keap1; Nrf2; protein–protein interactions; high-throughput screening
18.  RNAi mediated silencing of Nrf2 gene expression in non-small cell lung cancer inhibits tumor growth and increases efficacy of chemotherapy 
Cancer research  2008;68(19):7975-7984.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor-2 (Nrf2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that regulates the expression of electrophile and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes and efflux proteins, which confer cytoprotection against oxidative stress and apoptosis in normal cells. Loss of function mutations in the Nrf2 inhibitor, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein (Keap1), results in constitutive activation of Nrf2 function in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In this study, we demonstrate that constitutive activation of Nrf2 in lung cancer cells promotes tumorigenicity and contributes to chemoresistance by upregulation of glutathione, thioredoxin and the drug efflux pathways involved in detoxification of electrophiles and broad spectrum of drugs. RNAi-mediated reduction of Nrf2 expression in lung cancer cells induces generation of reactive oxygen species, suppresses tumor growth and results in increased sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drug induced cell death in vitro and in vivo. Inhibiting Nrf2 expression using naked siRNA duplexes in combination with carboplatin significantly inhibits tumor growth in a subcutaneous model of lung cancer. Thus, targeting Nrf2 activity in lung cancers, particularly those with Keap1 mutations, could be a promising strategy to inhibit tumor growth and circumvent chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC3070411  PMID: 18829555
Nrf2; Keap1; lung cancer; drug resistance; ROS; RNAi
19.  Cul3-mediated Nrf2 ubiquitination and ARE activation are dependent on the partial molar volume at position 151 of Keap1 
The Biochemical journal  2009;422(1):10.1042/BJ20090471.
Nrf2 is a transcription factor that activates transcription of a battery of cytoprotective genes by binding to the antioxidant response element (ARE). Nrf2 is repressed by the cysteine-rich Keap1 protein, which targets Nrf2 for ubiquitination and subsequent degradation by a Cul3-mediated ubiquitination complex. We find that modification of C151 of human Keap1 by mutation to a tryptophan relieves the repression by Keap1 and allows activation of the ARE by Nrf2. Keap1 C151W has a decreased affinity for Cul3, and can no longer serve to target Nrf2 for ubiquitination, though it retains its affinity for Nrf2. A series of 12 mutant Keap1 proteins, each containing a different residue at position 151, was constructed to explore the chemistry required for the effect. The series reveals that the extent to which Keap1 loses the ability to target Nrf2 for degradation, and hence the ability to repress ARE activation, correlates well with the partial molar volume of the residue. Other physico-chemical properties do not appear to contribute significantly to the effect. Based on this finding, a structural model is proposed whereby large residues at position 151 cause steric clashes that lead to alteration of the Keap1-Cul3 interaction. This model has significant implications for how electrophiles, which modify C151, disrupt the repressive function of Keap1.
PMCID: PMC3865926  PMID: 19489739
Keap1; Nrf2; partial molar volume; antioxidant response element; cysteine; tryptophan
20.  Beneficial Role of Nrf2 in Regulating NADPH Generation and Consumption 
Toxicological Sciences  2011;123(2):590-600.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that promotes the transcription of cytoprotective genes in response to oxidative and electrophilic stresses. Most functions of Nrf2 were identified by studying biological models with Nrf2 deficiency, however, little is known about the effects of graded Nrf2 activation. In the present study, genomic gene expression profiles by microarray analysis were characterized with a “gene dose-response” model in livers of Nrf2-null mice, wild-type mice, Kelch-like ECH associating protein 1 (Keap1)-knockdown (Keap1-KD) mice with enhanced Nrf2 activation, and Keap1-hepatocyte knockout (Keap1-HKO) mice with maximum hepatic Nrf2 activation. Hepatic nuclear Nrf2 protein, glutathione concentrations, and known Nrf2 target genes were increased in a dose-dependent manner. In total, 115 genes were identified to be constitutively induced and 80 genes suppressed with graded Nrf2 activation. Messenger RNA of genes encoding enzymes in the pentose phosphate pathway and enzyme were low with Nrf2 deficiency and high with Nrf2 activation, indicating that Nrf2 is important for NADPH production. NADPH is the major reducing resource to scavenge oxidative stress, including regenerating glutathione and thioredoxin and is also used for anabolic pathways including lipid synthesis. High performance liquid chromatography-ultraviolet absorbance analysis confirmed that hepatic NADPH concentration was lowest in Nrf2-null mice and highest in Keap1-HKO mice. In addition, genes involved in fatty acid synthesis and desaturation were downregulated with graded Nrf2 activation. In conclusion, the present study suggests that Nrf2 protects against environmental insults by promoting the generation of NADPH, which is preferentially consumed by aiding scavenging of oxidative stress rather than fatty acid synthesis and desaturation.
PMCID: PMC3179677  PMID: 21775727
Nrf2; microarray; liver
21.  Keap1-Nrf2 Signaling: A Target for Cancer Prevention by Sulforaphane 
Topics in current chemistry  2013;329:163-177.
Sulforaphane is a promising agent under preclinical evaluation in many models of disease prevention. This bioactive phytochemical affects many molecular targets in cellular and animal models; however, amongst the most sensitive is Keap1, a key sensor for the adaptive stress response system regulated through the transcription factor Nrf2. Keap1 is a sulfhydryl-rich protein that represses Nrf2 signaling by facilitating the poly ubiquitination of Nrf2 thereby enabling its subsequent proteasomal degradation. Interaction of sulforaphane with Keap1 disrupts this function and allows for nuclear accumulation of Nrf2 and activation of its transcriptional program. Enhanced transcription of Nrf2 target genes provokes a strong cytoprotective response that enhances resistance to carcinogenesis and other diseases mediated by exposures to electrophiles and oxidants. Clinical evaluation of sulforaphane has been largely conducted by utilizing preparations of broccoli or broccoli sprouts rich in either sulforaphane or its precursor form in plants, a stable β-thioglucose conjugate termed glucoraphanin. We have conducted a series of clinical trials in Qidong, China, a region where exposures to food- and air-borne carcinogens has been considerable, to evaluate the suitability of broccoli sprout beverages, rich in either glucoraphanin (GRR) or sulforaphane SFR or both for their bioavailability, tolerability and pharmacodynamic action in population-based interventions. Results from these clinical trials indicate that interventions with well characterized preparations of broccoli sprouts may enhance the detoxication of aflatoxins and air-borne toxins, which may in turn attenuate their associated health risks, including cancer, in exposed individuals.
PMCID: PMC3553557  PMID: 22752583
22.  Increased Nrf2 Activation in Livers from Keap1-Knockdown Mice Increases Expression of Cytoprotective Genes that Detoxify Electrophiles more than those that Detoxify Reactive Oxygen Species 
Toxicological Sciences  2009;108(1):35-47.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor critical for protection against electrophilic and oxidative stress. In a recently engineered mouse with knockdown of kelch-like ECH associated protein 1 (Keap1-kd mice), the cytosolic repressor of Nrf2, there is a 55% decrease in Keap1 mRNA and a 200% increase in Nrf2 protein in liver. Experiments with Nrf2-null mice have demonstrated the effects of a lack of Nrf2. However, little is known about the biological effects of more Nrf2 activation. Accordingly, the hepatic phenotype of Keap1-kd mice, as well as the hepatic mRNA expression of cytoprotective genes were compared among wild-type, Nrf2-null, and Keap1-kd mice. Three distinct patterns of hepatic gene expression were identified among wild-type, Nrf2-null, and Keap1-kd mice. The first pattern encompassed genes that were lower in Nrf2-null mice and considerably higher in Keap1-kd mice than wild-type mice, which included genes mainly responsible for the detoxification and elimination of electrophiles, such as NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 and glutathione-S-transferases (Gst), and multidrug resistance–associated proteins. The second pattern encompassed genes that were lower in Nrf2-null mice but not increased in Keap1-kd mice, and included genes, such as epoxide hydrolase-1, UDP-glucuronosyltransferases, aldehyde dehydrogenases, as well as genes important in the detoxification of reactive oxygen species, such as superoxide dismutase 1 and 2, catalase, and peroxiredoxin 1. The third pattern encompassed genes that were not different among wild-type, Nrf2-null, and Keap1-kd mice and included genes such as glutathione peroxidase, microsomal Gsts, and uptake transporters. In conclusion, the present study suggests that increased activation of hepatic Nrf2 is more important for the detoxification and elimination of electrophiles than reactive oxygen species.
PMCID: PMC2644398  PMID: 19129213
Nrf2; electrophilic stress; oxidative stress; cytoprotection
23.  Nrf2 is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer: implications for cell proliferation and therapy 
Molecular Cancer  2011;10:37.
Nrf2 is a key transcriptional regulator of a battery of genes that facilitate phase II/III drug metabolism and defence against oxidative stress. Nrf2 is largely regulated by Keap1, which directs Nrf2 for proteasomal degradation. The Nrf2/Keap1 system is dysregulated in lung, head and neck, and breast cancers and this affects cellular proliferation and response to therapy. Here, we have investigated the integrity of the Nrf2/Keap1 system in pancreatic cancer.
Keap1, Nrf2 and the Nrf2 target genes AKR1c1 and GCLC were detected in a panel of five pancreatic cancer cell lines. Mutation analysis of NRF2 exon 2 and KEAP1 exons 2-6 in these cell lines identified no mutations in NRF2 and only synonomous mutations in KEAP1. RNAi depletion of Nrf2 caused a decrease in the proliferation of Suit-2, MiaPaca-2 and FAMPAC cells and enhanced sensitivity to gemcitabine (Suit-2), 5-flurouracil (FAMPAC), cisplatin (Suit-2 and FAMPAC) and gamma radiation (Suit-2). The expression of Nrf2 and Keap1 was also analysed in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (n = 66 and 57, respectively) and matching normal benign epithelium (n = 21 cases). Whilst no significant correlation was seen between the expression levels of Keap1 and Nrf2 in the tumors, interestingly, Nrf2 staining was significantly greater in the cytoplasm of tumors compared to benign ducts (P < 0.001).
Expression of Nrf2 is up-regulated in pancreatic cancer cell lines and ductal adenocarcinomas. This may reflect a greater intrinsic capacity of these cells to respond to stress signals and resist chemotherapeutic interventions. Nrf2 also appears to support proliferation in certain pancreatic adenocarinomas. Therefore, strategies to pharmacologically manipulate the levels and/or activity of Nrf2 may have the potential to reduce pancreatic tumor growth, and increase sensitivity to therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3098205  PMID: 21489257
24.  Oxidative Stress Sensor Keap1 Functions as an Adaptor for Cul3-Based E3 Ligase To Regulate Proteasomal Degradation of Nrf2 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(16):7130-7139.
Transcription factor Nrf2 is a major regulator of genes encoding phase 2 detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant stress proteins in response to electrophilic agents and oxidative stress. In the absence of such stimuli, Nrf2 is inactive owing to its cytoplasmic retention by Keap1 and rapid degradation through the proteasome system. We examined the contribution of Keap1 to the rapid turnover of Nrf2 (half-life of less than 20 min) and found that a direct association between Keap1 and Nrf2 is required for Nrf2 degradation. In a series of domain function analyses of Keap1, we found that both the BTB and intervening-region (IVR) domains are crucial for Nrf2 degradation, implying that these two domains act to recruit ubiquitin-proteasome factors. Indeed, Cullin 3 (Cul3), a subunit of the E3 ligase complex, was found to interact specifically with Keap1 in vivo. Keap1 associates with the N-terminal region of Cul3 through the IVR domain and promotes the ubiquitination of Nrf2 in cooperation with the Cul3-Roc1 complex. These results thus provide solid evidence that Keap1 functions as an adaptor of Cul3-based E3 ligase. To our knowledge, Nrf2 and Keap1 are the first reported mammalian substrate and adaptor, respectively, of the Cul3-based E3 ligase system.
PMCID: PMC479737  PMID: 15282312
25.  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

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