In response to oxidative stress, Nrf2 and p21 Cip1/WAF1 are both upregulated to protect cells from oxidative damage. Nrf2 is constantly ubiquitinated by a Keap1 dimer that interacts with a weak-binding 29DLG motif and a strong-binding 79ETGE motif in Nrf2, resulting in degradation of Nrf2. Modification of the redox-sensitive cysteine residues on Keap1 disrupts the Keap1-29DLG binding, leading to diminished Nrf2 ubiquitination and activation of the antioxidant response. However, the underlying mechanism by which p21 protects cells from oxidative damage remains unclear. Here, we present molecular and genetic evidence suggesting that the antioxidant function of p21 is mediated through activation of Nrf2 by stabilizing the Nrf2 protein. The 154KRR motif in p21 directly interacts with the 29DLG and 79ETGE motifs in Nrf2, and thus, competes with Keap1 for Nrf2 binding, compromising ubiquitination of Nrf2. Furthermore, the physiological significance of our findings was demonstrated in vivo using p21-deficient mice.
E3 ubiquitin ligases, which target specific molecules for proteolytic destruction, have emerged as key regulators of immune functions. Several E3 ubiquitin ligases, including c-Cbl, Cbl-b, GRAIL, Itch, and Nedd4, have been shown to negatively regulate T-cell activation. Here, we report that the HECT-type E3 ligase AIP2 positively regulates T-cell activation. Ectopic expression of AIP2 in mouse primary T cells enhances their proliferation and interleukin-2 production by suppressing the apoptosis of T cells. AIP2 interacts with and promotes ubiquitin-mediated degradation of EGR2, a zinc finger transcription factor that has been found to regulate Fas ligand (FasL) expression during activation-induced T-cell death. Suppression of AIP2 expression by small RNA interference upregulates EGR2, inhibits EGR2 ubiquitination and FasL expression, and enhances the apoptosis of T cells. Therefore, AIP2 regulates activation-induced T-cell death by suppressing EGR2-mediated FasL expression via the ubiquitin pathway.
To maintain intracellular redox homeostasis, genes encoding many antioxidants and detoxification enzymes are transcriptionally upregulated upon deleterious oxidative stress through the cis antioxidant responsive elements (AREs) in their promoter regions. Nrf2 is the critical transcription factor responsible for ARE-dependent transcription. We and others have previously demonstrated that Nrf2 is targeted for ubiquitin-mediated degradation by Keap1 in a redox-sensitive manner through modifications of distinct cysteine residues of Keap1. Here, we report that p300/CBP directly acetylates Nrf2 in response to arsenite-induced stress. We have identified multiple acetylated lysine residues within the Nrf2 Neh1 DNA-binding domain. Combined lysine-to-arginine mutations on the acetylation sites, with no effects on Nrf2 protein stability, compromised the DNA-binding activity of Nrf2 in a promoter-specific manner. These findings demonstrated that acetylation of Nrf2 by p300/CBP augments promoter-specific DNA binding of Nrf2 and established acetylation as a novel regulatory mechanism that functions in concert with Keap1-mediated ubiquitination in modulating the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response.
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.
The bZIP transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a pivotal regulator of intracellular redox homeostasis by controlling the expression of many endogenous antioxidants and phase II detoxification enzymes. Upon oxidative stress, Nrf2 is induced at protein levels through redox-sensitive modifications on cysteine residues of Keap1, a component of the E3 ubiquitin ligase that targets Nrf2 for ubiquitin-dependent degradation. The mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs) have previously been proposed to regulate Nrf2 in response to oxidative stress. However, the exact role of MAPKs and the underlying molecular mechanism remain poorly defined. Here we report the first evidence that Nrf2 is phosphorylated in vivo by MAPKs. We have identified multiple serine/threonine residues as major targets of MAPK-mediated phosphorylation. Combined alanine substitution on those residues leads to a moderate decrease in the transcriptional activity of Nrf2, most likely due to a slight reduction in its nuclear accumulation. More importantly, Nrf2 protein stability, primarily controlled by Keap1, is not altered by Nrf2 phosphorylation in vivo. These data indicate that direct phosphorylation of Nrf2 by MAPKs has limited contribution in modulating Nrf2 activity. We suggest that MAPKs regulate the Nrf2 signaling pathway mainly through indirect mechanisms.
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.
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.
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.
Arsenic is widely spread in our living environment and imposes a big challenge on human health worldwide. Arsenic damages biological systems through multiple mechanisms including the generation of reactive oxygen species. The transcription factor Nrf2 regulates the cellular antioxidant response that protects cells from various insults. In this study, the protective role of Nrf2 in arsenic toxicity was investigated in a human bladder urothelial cell line, UROtsa. Using an UROtsa cell line stably infected with Nrf2-siRNA, we clearly demonstrate that compromised Nrf2 expression sensitized the cells to As(III)- and MMA(III)-induced toxicity. On the other hand, the activation of the Nrf2 pathway by tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) and sulforaphane (SF), the known Nrf2-inducers, rendered UROtsa cells more resistant to As(III)- and MMA(III). Furthermore, the wild type mouse embryo fibroblast (WT-MEF) cells were protected from As(III)- and MMA(III)-induced toxicity following Nrf2 activation by tBHQ or SF whereas neither tBHQ nor SF conferred protection in the Nrf2−/−-MEF cells, demonstrating that tBHQ- or SF-mediated protection against As(III)- and MMA(III)-induced toxicity depends on Nrf2 activation. These results, obtained by both loss of function and gain of function analyses, clearly demonstrate the protective role of Nrf2 in arsenic-induced toxicity. The current work lays the groundwork for using Nrf2 activators for therapeutic and dietary interventions against adverse effects of arsenic.
Nrf2; Keap1; arsenic; arsenite; MMA(III); UROtsa
Groundwater contaminated with arsenic imposes a big challenge to human health worldwide. Using natural compounds to subvert the detrimental effects of arsenic represents an attractive strategy. The transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a critical regulator of the cellular antioxidant response and xenobiotic metabolism. Recently, activation of the Nrf2 signaling pathway has been reported to confer protection against arsenic-induced toxicity in a cell culture model.
The goal of the present work was to identify a potent Nrf2 activator from plants as a chemopreventive compound and to demonstrate the efficacy of the compound in battling arsenic-induced toxicity.
Oridonin activated the Nrf2 signaling pathway at a low subtoxic dose and was able to stabilize Nrf2 by blocking Nrf2 ubiquitination and degradation, leading to accumulation of the Nrf2 protein and activation of the Nrf2-dependent cytoprotective response. Pretreatment of UROtsa cells with 1.4 μM oridonin significantly enhanced the cellular redox capacity, reduced formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and improved cell survival after arsenic challenge.
We identified oridonin as representing a novel class of Nrf2 activators and illustrated the mechanism by which the Nrf2 pathway is activated. Furthermore, we demonstrated the feasibility of using natural compounds targeting Nrf2 as a therapeutic approach to protect humans from various environmental insults that may occur daily.
antioxidant responsive element; antitumor; ARE; arsenic; chemoprevention; diterpenoid; Keap1; Nrf2; oridonin; oxidative stress; rubescensin
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.
The bZIP transcription factor Nrf2 controls a genetic program that protects cells from oxidative damage and maintains cellular redox homeostasis. Keap1, a BTB-Kelch protein, is the major upstream regulator of Nrf2 and controls both the subcellular localization and steady-state levels of Nrf2. In this report, we demonstrate that Keap1 functions as a substrate adaptor protein for a Cul3-dependent E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. Keap1 assembles into a functional E3 ubiquitin ligase complex with Cul3 and Rbx1 that targets multiple lysine residues located in the N-terminal Neh2 domain of Nrf2 for ubiquitin conjugation both in vivo and in vitro. Keap1-dependent ubiquitination of Nrf2 is inhibited following exposure of cells to quinone-induced oxidative stress and sulforaphane, a cancer-preventive isothiocyanate. A mutant Keap1 protein containing a single cysteine-to-serine substitution at residue 151 within the BTB domain of Keap1 is markedly resistant to inhibition by either quinone-induced oxidative stress or sulforaphane. Inhibition of Keap1-dependent ubiquitination of Nrf2 correlates with decreased association of Keap1 with Cul3. Neither quinone-induced oxidative stress nor sulforaphane disrupts association between Keap1 and Nrf2. Our results suggest that the ability of Keap1 to assemble into a functional E3 ubiquitin ligase complex is the critical determinant that controls steady-state levels of Nrf2 in response to cancer-preventive compounds and oxidative stress.
A common feature of diverse chemopreventive agents is the ability to activate expression of a genetic program that protects cells from reactive chemical species that, if left unchecked, would cause mutagenic DNA damage. The bZIP transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a key regulator of this cancer-preventive genetic program. Nrf2 is normally sequestered in the cytoplasm by a protein known as Keap1. Chemopreventive agents allow Nrf2 to escape from Keap1-mediated repression, although the molecular mechanism(s) responsible for activation of Nrf2 is not understood. In this report, we demonstrate that Keap1 does not passively sequester Nrf2 in the cytoplasm but actively targets Nrf2 for ubiquitination and degradation by the proteosome under basal culture conditions. We have identified two critical cysteine residues in Keap1, C273 and C288, that are required for Keap1-dependent ubiquitination of Nrf2. Both sulforaphane, a chemopreventive isothiocyanate, and oxidative stress enable Nrf2 to escape Keap1-dependent degradation, leading to stabilization of Nrf2, increased nuclear localization of Nrf2, and activation of Nrf2-dependent cancer-protective genes. We have identified a third cysteine residue in Keap1, C151, that is uniquely required for inhibition of Keap1-dependent degradation of Nrf2 by sulforaphane and oxidative stress. This cysteine residue is also required for a novel posttranslational modification to Keap1 that is induced by oxidative stress. We propose that Keap1 is a component of a novel E3 ubiquitin ligase complex that is specifically targeted for inhibition by both chemopreventive agents and oxidative stress.
Activation of PERK following the accumulation of unfolded proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) promotes translation inhibition and cell cycle arrest. PERK function is essential for cell survival following exposure of cells to ER stress, but the mechanisms whereby PERK signaling promotes cell survival are not thoroughly understood. We have identified the Nrf2 transcription factor as a novel PERK substrate. In unstressed cells, Nrf2 is maintained in the cytoplasm via association with Keap1. PERK-dependent phosphorylation triggers dissociation of Nrf2/Keap1 complexes and inhibits reassociation of Nrf2/Keap1 complexes in vitro. Activation of PERK via agents that trigger the unfolded protein response is both necessary and sufficient for dissociation of cytoplasmic Nrf2/Keap1 and subsequent Nrf2 nuclear import. Finally, we demonstrate that cells harboring a targeted deletion of Nrf2 exhibit increased cell death relative to wild-type counterparts following exposure to ER stress. Our data demonstrate that Nrf2 is a critical effector of PERK-mediated cell survival.
The inhibitor of kappa B alpha (IκBα) protein is able to shuttle between the cytoplasm and the nucleus. We have utilized a combination of in vivo and in vitro approaches to provide mechanistic insight into nucleocytoplasmic shuttling by IκBα. IκBα contains multiple functional domains that contribute to shuttling of IκBα between the cytoplasm and the nucleus. Nuclear import of IκBα is mediated by the central ankyrin repeat domain. Similar to previously described nuclear import pathways, nuclear import of IκBα is temperature and ATP dependent and is blocked by a dominant-negative mutant of importin β. However, in contrast to classical nuclear import pathways, nuclear import of IκBα is independent of soluble cytosolic factors and is not blocked by the dominant-negative RanQ69L protein. Nuclear export of IκBα is mediated by an N-terminal nuclear export sequence. Nuclear export of IκBα requires the CRM1 nuclear export receptor and is blocked by the dominant-negative RanQ69L protein. Our results are consistent with a model in which nuclear import of IκBα is mediated through direct interactions with components of the nuclear pore complex, while nuclear export of IκBα is mediated via a CRM1-dependent pathway.