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1.  p62 links autophagy and Nrf2 signaling 
Free radical biology & medicine  2015;88(0 0):199-204.
The Nrf2-Keap1-ARE pathway is a redox and xenobiotic sensitive signaling axis that functions to protect cells against oxidative stress, environmental toxicants, and harmful chemicals through the induction of cytoprotective genes. To enforce strict regulation, cells invest a great deal of energy into the maintenance of the Nrf2 pathway to ensure rapid induction upon cellular insult and rapid return to basal levels once the insult is mitigated. Because of the protective role of Nrf2 transcriptional programs, controlled activation of the pathway has been recognized as a means for chemoprevention. On the other hand, constitutive activation of Nrf2, due to somatic mutations of genes that control Nrf2 degradation, promotes carcinogenesis and imparts chemoresistance to cancer cells. Autophagy, a bulk protein degradation process, is another tightly regulated complex cellular process that functions as a cellular quality control system to remove damaged proteins or organelles. Low cellular nutrient levels can also activate autophagy, which acts to restore metabolic homeostasis through the degradation of macromolecules to provide nutrients. Recently, these two cellular pathways were shown to intersect through the direct interaction between p62 (an autophagy adaptor protein) and Keap1 (the Nrf2 substrate adaptor for the Cul3 E3 ubiquitin ligase). Dysregulation of autophagy was shown to result in prolonged Nrf2 activation in a p62-dependent manner. In this review, we will discuss the progress that has been made in dissecting the intersection of these two pathways and the potential tumor-promoting role of prolonged Nrf2 activation.
PMCID: PMC4628872  PMID: 26117325
2.  Nrf2-dependent suppression of azoxymethane/dextran sulfate sodium-induced colon carcinogenesis by the cinnamon-derived dietary factor cinnamaldehyde 
The progressive nature of colorectal cancer (CRC) and poor prognosis associated with the metastatic phase of the disease create an urgent need for the development of more efficacious strategies targeting colorectal carcinogenesis. Cumulative evidence suggests that the redox-sensitive transcription factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2), a master regulator of the cellular antioxidant defence, represents a promising molecular target for CRC chemoprevention. Recently, we have identified cinnamon, the ground bark of Cinnamomum aromaticum (cassia cinnamon) and Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon cinnamon), as a rich dietary source of the Nrf2 inducer cinnamaldehyde (CA) eliciting the Nrf2-regulated antioxidant response in human epithelial colon cells, conferring cytoprotection against electrophilic and genotoxic insult. Here, we have explored the molecular mechanism underlying CA-induced Nrf2 activation in colorectal epithelial cells and have examined the chemopreventive potential of CA in a murine CRC model comparing Nrf2+/+ and Nrf2−/− mice. In HCT116 cells, CA caused a Keap1-C151-dependent increase in Nrf2 protein half-life via blockage of ubiquitination with upregulation of cytoprotective Nrf2 target genes and elevation of cellular glutathione. After optimizing colorectal Nrf2 activation and target gene expression by dietary CA-supplementation regimens, we demonstrated that CA suppresses AOM/DSS-induced inflammatory colon carcinogenesis with modulation of molecular markers of colorectal carcinogenesis. Dietary suppression of CRC using CA supplementation was achieved in Nrf2+/+ but not in Nrf2−/− mice confirming the Nrf2-dependence of CA-induced chemopreventive effects. Taken together, our data suggest feasibility of CRC suppression by dietary CA, an FDA-approved food additive derived from the third most consumed spice in the world.
PMCID: PMC4417412  PMID: 25712056
Nrf2; colon cancer; AOM-DSS; cinnamon; cinnamaldehyde; dietary chemoprevention
3.  A Curcumin Derivative That Inhibits Vinyl Carbamate-Induced Lung Carcinogenesis via Activation of the Nrf2 Protective Response 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2015;23(8):651-664.
Aims: Lung cancer has a high worldwide morbidity and mortality. The employment of chemopreventive agents is effective to reduce lung cancer. Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) mitigates insults from both exogenous and endogenous sources and thus has been verified as a target for chemoprevention. Curcumin has long been recognized as a chemopreventive agent, but poor bioavailability and weak Nrf2 induction have prohibited clinical application. Thus, we have developed new curcumin derivatives and tested their Nrf2 induction. Results: Based on curcumin, we synthesized curcumin analogs with five carbon linkages and established a structure–activity relationship for Nrf2 induction. Among these derivatives, bis[2-hydroxybenzylidene]acetone (BHBA) was one of the most potent Nrf2 inducers with minimal toxicity and improved pharmacological properties and was thus selected for further investigation. BHBA activated the Nrf2 pathway in the canonical Keap1-Cys151-dependent manner. Furthermore, BHBA was able to protect human lung epithelial cells against sodium arsenite [As(III)]-induced cytotoxicity. More importantly, in an in vivo vinyl carbamate-induced lung cancer model in A/J mice, preadministration of BHBA significantly reduced lung adenocarcinoma, while curcumin failed to show any effects even at high doses. Innovation: The curcumin derivative, BHBA, is a potent inducer of Nrf2. It was demonstrated to protect against As(III) toxicity in lung epithelial cells in an Nrf2-dependent manner. Furthermore, compared with curcumin, BHBA displayed improved chemopreventive activities in a carcinogen-induced lung cancer model. Conclusion: Taken together, our results demonstrate that BHBA, a curcumin analog with improved Nrf2-activating and chemopreventive activities both in vitro and in vivo, could be developed into a chemoprotective pharmacological agent. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 23, 651–664.
PMCID: PMC4560850  PMID: 25891177
4.  Molecular mechanisms of Nrf2 regulation and how these influence chemical modulation for disease intervention 
Biochemical Society Transactions  2015;43(4):680-686.
Nrf2 (nuclear factor erytheroid-derived-2-like 2) transcriptional programmes are activated by a variety of cellular stress conditions to maintain cellular homoeostasis. Under non-stress conditions, Nrf2 is under tight regulation by the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS). Detailed mechanistic investigations have shown the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1)–cullin3 (Cul3)–ring-box1 (Rbx1) E3-ligase to be the primary Nrf2 regulatory system. Recently, both beta-transducin repeat-containing E3 ubiquitin protein ligase (β-TrCP) and E3 ubiquitin-protein ligase synoviolin (Hrd1) have been identified as novel E3 ubiquitin ligases that negatively regulate Nrf2 through Keap1-independent mechanisms. In addition to UPS-mediated regulation of Nrf2, investigations have revealed a cross-talk between Nrf2 and the autophagic pathway resulting in activation of Nrf2 in a non-canonical manner. In addition to regulation at the protein level, Nrf2 was recently shown to be regulated at the transcriptional level by oncogenic K-rat sarcoma (Ras). A consequence of these differential regulatory mechanisms is the dual role of Nrf2 in cancer: the canonical, protective role and the non-canonical ‘dark-side’ of Nrf2. Based on the protective role of Nrf2, a vast effort has been dedicated towards identifying novel chemical inducers of Nrf2 for the purpose of chemoprevention. On the other hand, upon malignant transformation, some cancer cells have a constitutively high level of Nrf2 offering a growth advantage, as well as rendering cancer cells resistant to chemotherapeutics. This discovery has led to a new paradigm in cancer treatment; the initially counterintuitive use of Nrf2 inhibitors as adjuvants in chemotherapy. Herein, we will discuss the mechanisms of Nrf2 regulation and how this detailed molecular understanding can be leveraged to develop Nrf2 modulators to prevent diseases, mitigate disease progression or overcome chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC4613518  PMID: 26551712
chemoprevention/chemoresistance; Hrd1; Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1); nuclear factor erytheroid-derived-2-like 2 (Nrf2); reactive oxygen species (ROS); ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS)
5.  Nrf2 suppresses lupus nephritis through inhibition of oxidative injury and the NF-κB-mediated inflammatory response 
Kidney international  2013;85(2):333-343.
The generation of reactive oxygen species plays a pivotal role in both acute and chronic glomerular injuries in patients with lupus nephritis. Since the transcription factor Nrf2 is a major regulator of the antioxidant response and is a primary cellular defense mechanism we sought to determine a role of Nrf2 in the progression of lupus nephritis. Pathological analyses of renal biopsies from patients with different types of lupus nephritis showed oxidative damage in the glomeruli, accompanied by an active Nrf2 antioxidant response. A murine lupus nephritis model using Nrf2+/+ and Nrf2−/− mice was established using pristine injection. In this model, Nrf2−/− mice suffered from greater renal damage and had more severe pathological alterations in the kidney. In addition, Nrf2+/+ mice showed ameliorative renal function when treated with sulforaphane, an Nrf2 inducer. Nrf2−/− mice had higher expression of TGFβ1, fibronectin and iNOS. In primary mouse mesangial cells, the nephritogenic monoclonal antibody R4A activated the NF-κB pathway and increased the level of reactive oxygen species, iNOS, TGFβ1 and fibronectin. Knockdown of Nrf2 expression aggravated all aforementioned responses induced by R4A. Thus, these results suggest that Nrf2 improves lupus nephritis by neutralizing reactive oxygen species and by negatively regulating the NF-κB and TGFβ1 signaling pathways.
PMCID: PMC3992978  PMID: 24025640
lupus nephritis; Nrf2; ROS; NF-κB; TGFβ1; iNOS
6.  Does Nrf2 Contribute to p53-Mediated Control of Cell Survival and Death? 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2012;17(12):1670-1675.
In response to oxidative stress, the transcription factor Nrf2 is upregulated and controls activation of many genes that work in concert to defend cells from damages and to maintain cellular redox homeostasis. p53 has been regarded as the guardian of the genome through its pro-oxidant and antioxidant functions. Under low levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), “normal” amounts of p53 upregulates expression of antioxidant genes, protecting macromolecules from ROS-induced damage. However, at high levels or extended exposure of ROS, p53 expression is enhanced, activating pro-oxidant genes and resulting in p53-dependent apoptosis. We observed a two-phase Nrf2 expression controlled by p53. (i) The induction phase: when p53 expression is relatively low, p53 enhances the protein level of Nrf2 and its target genes to promote cell survival in a p21-dependent manner. (ii) The repression phase: when p53 expression is high, the Nrf2-mediated survival response is inhibited by p53. Our observation leads to the hypothesis that the p53-mediated biphasic regulation of Nrf2 may be key for the tumor-suppressor function of p53 by coordinating cell survival and death pathways. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 17, 1670–1675.
PMCID: PMC3474188  PMID: 22559194
7.  Nrf2 Pathway Regulates Multidrug-Resistance-Associated Protein 1 in Small Cell Lung Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63404.
Although multidrug-resistance-associated protein-1 (MRP1) is a major contributor to multi-drug resistance (MDR), the regulatory mechanism of Mrp1 still remains unclear. Nrf2 is a transcription factor that regulates cellular defense response through antioxidant response elements (AREs) in normal tissues. Recently, Nrf2 has emerged as an important contributor to chemo-resistance in tumor tissues. In the present study, the role of Nrf2-ARE pathway on regulation of Mrp1 was investigated. Compared with H69 lung cancer cells, H69AR cells with MDR showed significantly higher Nrf2-ARE pathway activity and expression of Mrp1 as well. When Nrf2 was knocked down in H69AR cells, MRP1's expression decreased accordingly. Moreover, those H69AR cells with reduced Nrf2 level restored sensitivity to chemo-drugs. To explore how Nrf2-ARE pathway regulates Mrp1, the promoter of Mrp1 gene was searched, and two putative AREs—ARE1 and ARE2—were found. Using reporter gene and ChIP assay, both ARE1 and ARE2 showed response to and interaction with Nrf2. In 40 cases of cancer tissues, the expression of Nrf2 and MRP1 was measured by immunohistochemistry (IHC). As the quantitive data of IHC indicated, both Nrf2 and MRP1 showed significantly higher expression in tumor tissue than adjacent non-tumor tissue. And more important, the correlation analysis of the two genes proved that their expression was correlative. Taken together, theses data suggested that Nrf2-ARE pathway is required for the regulatory expression of Mrp1 and implicated Nrf2 as a new therapeutic target for MDR.
PMCID: PMC3646742  PMID: 23667609
8.  High levels of Nrf2 determine chemoresistance in type II endometrial cancer 
Cancer research  2010;70(13):5486-5496.
Type II endometrial cancer, which mainly presents as serous and clear cell types, has proved to be the most malignant and recurrent carcinoma among various female genital malignancies. The transcription factor, Nrf2, was first described as having chemopreventive activity. Activation of the Nrf2-mediated cellular defense response protects cells against the toxic and carcinogenic effects of environmental insults by upregulating an array of genes that detoxify reactive oxygen species (ROS) and restore cellular redox homeostasis. However, the cancer-promoting role of Nrf2 has recently been revealed. Nrf2 is constitutively upregulated in several types of human cancer tissues and cancer cell lines. Furthermore, inhibition of Nrf2 expression sensitizes cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs. In this study, the constitutive level of Nrf2 was compared in different types of human endometrial tumors. It was found that Nrf2 was highly expressed in endometrial serous carcinoma (ESC), whereas complex hyperplasia (CH) and endometrial endometrioid carcinoma (EEC) had no or marginal expression of Nrf2. Likewise, the ESC derived SPEC-2 cell line had a higher level of Nrf2 expression and was more resistant to the toxic effects of cisplatin and paclitaxel than that of the Ishikawa cell line, which was generated from EEC. Silencing of Nrf2 rendered SPEC-2 cells more susceptible to chemotherapeutic drugs while it had a limited effect on Ishikawa cells. Inhibition of Nrf2 expression by overexpressing Keap1 sensitized SPEC-2 cells or SPEC-2-derived xenografts to chemotherapeutic treatments using both cell culture and SCID mouse models. Collectively, we provide a molecular basis for the use of Nrf2 inhibitors to increase the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs and to combat chemoresistance, the biggest obstacle in chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC2896449  PMID: 20530669
Nrf2; chemoresistance; and endometrial cancer
9.  The Cinnamon-derived Dietary Factor Cinnamic Aldehyde Activates the Nrf2-dependent Antioxidant Response in Human Epithelial Colon Cells 
Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)  2010;15(5):3338-3355.
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a major cause of tumor-related morbidity and mortality worldwide. Recent research suggests that pharmacological intervention using dietary factors that activate the redox sensitive Nrf2/Keap1-ARE signaling pathway may represent a promising strategy for chemoprevention of human cancer including CRC. In our search for dietary Nrf2 activators with potential chemopreventive activity targeting CRC, we have focused our studies on trans-cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldeyde, CA), the key flavor compound in cinnamon essential oil. Here we demonstrate that CA and an ethanolic extract (CE) prepared from Cinnamomum cassia bark, standardized for CA content by GC-MS analysis, display equipotent activity as inducers of Nrf2 transcriptional activity. In human colon cancer cells (HCT116, HT29) and non-immortalized primary fetal colon cells (FHC), CA- and CE-treatment upregulated cellular protein levels of Nrf2 and established Nrf2 targets involved in the antioxidant response including heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1) and γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase (γ-GCS, catalytic subunit). CA- and CE-pretreatment strongly upregulated cellular glutathione levels and protected HCT116 cells against hydrogen peroxide-induced genotoxicity and arsenic-induced oxidative insult. Taken together our data demonstrate that the cinnamon-derived food factor CA is a potent activator of the Nrf2-orchestrated antioxidant response in cultured human epithelial colon cells. CA may therefore represent an underappreciated chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3101712  PMID: 20657484
colon cancer; Nrf2-activator; cinnamic aldehyde; antioxidant response
10.  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
11.  A Noncanonical Mechanism of Nrf2 Activation by Autophagy Deficiency: Direct Interaction between Keap1 and p62▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2010;30(13):3275-3285.
In response to stress, cells can utilize several cellular processes, such as autophagy, which is a bulk-lysosomal degradation pathway, to mitigate damages and increase the chances of cell survival. Deregulation of autophagy causes upregulation of p62 and the formation of p62-containing aggregates, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The Nrf2-Keap1 pathway functions as a critical regulator of the cell's defense mechanism against oxidative stress by controlling the expression of many cellular protective proteins. Under basal conditions, Nrf2 is ubiquitinated by the Keap1-Cul3-E3 ubiquitin ligase complex and targeted to the 26S proteasome for degradation. Upon induction, the activity of the E3 ubiquitin ligase is inhibited through the modification of cysteine residues in Keap1, resulting in the stabilization and activation of Nrf2. In this current study, we identified the direct interaction between p62 and Keap1 and the residues required for the interaction have been mapped to 349-DPSTGE-354 in p62 and three arginines in the Kelch domain of Keap1. Accumulation of endogenous p62 or ectopic expression of p62 sequesters Keap1 into aggregates, resulting in the inhibition of Keap1-mediated Nrf2 ubiquitination and its subsequent degradation by the proteasome. In contrast, overexpression of mutated p62, which loses its ability to interact with Keap1, had no effect on Nrf2 stability, demonstrating that p62-mediated Nrf2 upregulation is Keap1 dependent. These findings demonstrate that autophagy deficiency activates the Nrf2 pathway in a noncanonical cysteine-independent mechanism.
PMCID: PMC2897585  PMID: 20421418
12.  Nrf2 protects against As(III)-induced damage in mouse liver and bladder 
Arsenic compounds are classified as toxicants and human carcinogens. Environmental exposure to arsenic imposes a big health issue worldwide. Arsenic elicits its toxic efforts through many mechanisms, including generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Nrf2 is the primary transcription factor that controls expression of a main cellular antioxidant response, which is required for neutralizing ROS and thus defending cells from exogenous insults. Previously, we demonstrated a protective role of Nrf2 against arsenic-induced toxicity using a cell culture model. In this report, we present evidence that Nrf2 protects against liver and bladder injury in response to six-weeks of arsenic exposure in a mouse model. Nrf2−/− mice displayed more severe pathological changes in the liver and bladder, compared to Nrf2+/+ mice. Furthermore, Nrf2−/− mice were more sensitive to arsenic-induced DNA hypomethylation, oxidative DNA damage, and apoptotic cell death. These results indicate a protective role of Nrf2 against arsenic toxicity in vivo. Hence, this work demonstrates the feasibility of using dietary compounds that target activation of the Nrf2 signaling pathway to alleviate arsenic-induced damage.
PMCID: PMC2739886  PMID: 19538980
13.  Nrf2 promotes neuronal cell differentiation 
Free radical biology & medicine  2009;47(6):867-879.
The transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a master regulator for the endogenous antioxidant response, which is critical in defending cells against environmental insults and in maintaining intracellular redox balance. However, whether Nrf2 has any role in neuronal cell differentiation is largely unknown. In this report, we have examined the effects of Nrf2 on cell differentiation using a neuroblastoma cell line, SH-SY5Y. Retinoic acid (RA) and 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), two well-studied inducers for neuronal differentiation, are able to induce Nrf2 and its target gene NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) in a dose- and time- dependent manner. RA-induced Nrf2 up-regulation is accompanied by neurite outgrowth and an induction of two neuronal differentiation markers, neurofilament-M (NF-M) and microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP-2). Overexpression of Nrf2 in SH-SY5Y cells promotes neuronal differentiation whereas inhibition of endogenous Nrf2 expression inhibited neuronal differentiation. More remarkably, the positive role of Nrf2 in neuronal differentiation was verified ex vivo in primary neuron culture. Primary neurons isolated from Nrf2-null mice showed a retarded progress in differentiation, compared to that from wild-type mice. Collectively, our data demonstrate a novel role for Nrf2 in promoting neuronal cell differentiation, which will open new perspectives for therapeutic uses of Nrf2 activators in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC2748111  PMID: 19573594
Nrf2; Keap1; Oxidative Stress; Neuronal differentiation; SH-SY5Y; NQO1
14.  Direct interaction between Nrf2 and p21Cip1/WAF1 upregulates the Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response 
Molecular cell  2009;34(6):663-673.
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.
PMCID: PMC2714804  PMID: 19560419

Results 1-14 (14)