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1.  Tanshinone I Activates the Nrf2-Dependent Antioxidant Response and Protects Against As(III)-Induced Lung Inflammation In Vitro and In Vivo 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2013;19(14):1647-1661.
Aims: The NF-E2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) signaling pathway regulates the cellular antioxidant response and activation of Nrf2 has recently been shown to limit tissue damage from exposure to environmental toxicants, including As(III). In an attempt to identify improved molecular agents for systemic protection against environmental insults, we have focused on the identification of novel medicinal plant-derived Nrf2 activators. Results: Tanshinones [tanshinone I (T-I), tanshinone IIA, dihydrotanshinone, cryptotanshinone], phenanthrenequinone-based redox therapeutics derived from the medicinal herb Salvia miltiorrhiza, have been tested as experimental therapeutics for Nrf2-dependent cytoprotection. Using a dual luciferase reporter assay overexpressing wild-type or mutant Kelch-like ECH-associated protein-1 (Keap1), we demonstrate that T-I is a potent Keap1-C151-dependent Nrf2 activator that stabilizes Nrf2 by hindering its ubiquitination. In human bronchial epithelial cells exposed to As(III), T-I displays pronounced cytoprotective activity with upregulation of Nrf2-orchestrated gene expression. In Nrf2 wild-type mice, systemic administration of T-I attenuates As(III) induced inflammatory lung damage, a protective effect not observed in Nrf2 knockout mice. Innovation: Tanshinones have been identified as a novel class of Nrf2-inducers for antioxidant tissue protection in an in vivo As(III) inhalation model, that is relevant to low doses of environmental exposure. Conclusion: T-I represents a prototype Nrf2-activator that displays cytoprotective activity upon systemic administration targeting lung damage originating from environmental insults. T-I based Nrf2-directed systemic intervention may provide therapeutic benefit in protecting other organs against environmental insults. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 19, 1647–1661.
PMCID: PMC3809600  PMID: 23394605
2.  USP15 negatively regulates Nrf2 through deubiquitination of Keap1 
Molecular cell  2013;51(1):68-79.
Nrf2 is a master regulator of the antioxidant response. Under basal conditions Nrf2 is polyubiquitinated by the Keap1-Cul3-E3 ligase and degraded by the 26S-proteasome. In response to Nrf2 inducers there is a switch in polyubiquitination from Nrf2 to Keap1. Currently, regulation of the Nrf2-Keap1 pathway by ubiquitination is largely understood. However, the mechanism responsible for removal of ubiquitin conjugated to Nrf2 or Keap1 remains unknown. Here we report that the deubiquitinating enzyme, USP15, specifically deubiquitinates Keap1, which suppresses the Nrf2 pathway. We demonstrated that deubiquitinated-Keap1 incorporates into the Keap1-Cul3-E3 ligase complex more efficiently, enhancing the complex stability and enzymatic activity. Consequently, there is an increase in Nrf2 protein degradation and a reduction in Nrf2 target gene expression. Furthermore, USP15-siRNA enhances chemoresistance of cells through upregulation of Nrf2. These findings further our understanding of how the Nrf2-Keap1 pathway is regulated, which is imperative in targeting this pathway for chemoprevention or chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC3732832  PMID: 23727018
Nrf2; Keap1; USP15; Cul3; ubiquitination; deubiquitination; antioxidant response; chemoresistance
4.  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
5.  Arsenic Inhibits Autophagic Flux, Activating the Nrf2-Keap1 Pathway in a p62-Dependent Manner 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2013;33(12):2436-2446.
The Nrf2-Keap1 signaling pathway is a protective mechanism promoting cell survival. Activation of the Nrf2 pathway by natural compounds has been proven to be an effective strategy for chemoprevention. Interestingly, a cancer-promoting function of Nrf2 has recently been observed in many types of tumors due to deregulation of the Nrf2-Keap1 axis, which leads to constitutive activation of Nrf2. Here, we report a novel mechanism of Nrf2 activation by arsenic that is distinct from that of chemopreventive compounds. Arsenic deregulates the autophagic pathway through blockage of autophagic flux, resulting in accumulation of autophagosomes and sequestration of p62, Keap1, and LC3. Thus, arsenic activates Nrf2 through a noncanonical mechanism (p62 dependent), leading to a chronic, sustained activation of Nrf2. In contrast, activation of Nrf2 by sulforaphane (SF) and tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) depends upon Keap1-C151 and not p62 (the canonical mechanism). More importantly, SF and tBHQ do not have any effect on autophagy. In fact, SF and tBHQ alleviate arsenic-mediated deregulation of autophagy. Collectively, these findings provide evidence that arsenic causes prolonged activation of Nrf2 through autophagy dysfunction, possibly providing a scenario similar to that of constitutive activation of Nrf2 found in certain human cancers. This may represent a previously unrecognized mechanism underlying arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity in humans.
PMCID: PMC3700105  PMID: 23589329
6.  Arsenic-Mediated Activation of the Nrf2-Keap1 Antioxidant Pathway 
Arsenic is present in the environment and has become a worldwide health concern due to its toxicity and carcinogenicity. However, the specific mechanism(s) by which arsenic elicits its toxic effects has yet to be fully elucidated. The transcription factor nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) has been recognized as the master regulator of a cellular defense mechanism against toxic insults. This review highlights studies demonstrating that arsenic activates the Nrf2-Keap1 antioxidant pathway by a distinct mechanism from that of natural compounds such as sulforaphane (SF) found in broccoli sprouts or tert-butylhyrdoquinone (tBHQ), a natural antioxidant commonly used as a food preservative. Evidence also suggests that arsenic prolongs Nrf2 activation and may mimic constitutive activation of Nrf2, which has been found in several human cancers due to disruption of the Nrf2-Keap1 axis. The current literature strongly suggests that activation of Nrf2 by arsenic potentially contributes to, rather than protects against, arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity. The mechanism(s) by which known Nrf2 activators, such as the natural chemopreventive compounds SF and lipoic acid, protect against the deleterious effects caused by arsenic will also be discussed. These findings will provide insight to further understand how arsenic promotes a prolonged Nrf2 response, which will lead to the identification of novel molecular markers and development of rational therapies for the prevention or intervention of arsenic-induced diseases. The National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) award has provided the opportunity to review the progress both in the fields of arsenic toxicology and Nrf2 biology. Much of the funding has led to (1) the novel discovery that arsenic activates the Nrf2 pathway by a mechanism different to that of other Nrf2 activators, such as sulforaphane and tert-butylhydroquinone, (2) activation of Nrf2 by chemopreventive compounds protects against arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity both in vitro and in vivo, (3) constitutive activation of Nrf2 by disrupting Keap1-mediated negative regulation contributes to cancer and chemoresistance, (4) p62-mediated sequestration of Keap1 activates the Nrf2 pathway, and (5) arsenic-mediated Nrf2 activation may be through a p62-dependent mechanism. All of these findings have been published and are discussed in this review. This award has laid the foundation for my laboratory to further investigate the molecular mechanism(s) that regulate the Nrf2 pathway and how it may play an integral role in arsenic toxicity. Moreover, understanding the biology behind arsenic toxicity and carcinogenicity will help in the discovery of potential strategies to prevent or control arsenic-mediated adverse effects.
PMCID: PMC3725327  PMID: 23188707
Nrf2; Arsenic; Keap1; Oxidative stress; p62; Autophagy; Chemoprevention
7.  Autophagy Suppresses RIP Kinase-Dependent Necrosis Enabling Survival to mTOR Inhibition 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41831.
mTOR inhibitors are used clinically to treat renal cancer but are not curative. Here we show that autophagy is a resistance mechanism of human renal cell carcinoma (RCC) cell lines to mTOR inhibitors. RCC cell lines have high basal autophagy that is required for survival to mTOR inhibition. In RCC4 cells, inhibition of mTOR with CCI-779 stimulates autophagy and eliminates RIP kinases (RIPKs) and this is blocked by autophagy inhibition, which induces RIPK- and ROS-dependent necroptosis in vitro and suppresses xenograft growth. Autophagy of mitochondria is required for cell survival since mTOR inhibition turns off Nrf2 antioxidant defense. Thus, coordinate mTOR and autophagy inhibition leads to an imbalance between ROS production and defense, causing necroptosis that may enhance cancer treatment efficacy.
PMCID: PMC3406086  PMID: 22848625
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  Dual Roles of Nrf2 in Cancer 
In response to oxidative stress, the transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) controls the fate of cells through transcriptional upregulation of antioxidant response element (ARE)-bearing genes, including those encoding endogenous antioxidants, phase II detoxifying enzymes, and transporters. Expression of the Nrf2-dependent proteins is critical for ameliorating or eliminating toxicants/carcinogens to maintain cellular redox homeostasis. As a result, activation of the Nrf2 pathway, by naturally-occurring compounds or synthetic chemicals at sub-toxic doses, confers protection against subsequent toxic/carcinogenic exposure. Thus, the use of dietary compounds or synthetic chemicals to boost the Nrf2-dependent adaptive response to counteract environmental insults has emerged to be a promising strategy for cancer prevention. Interestingly, recent emerging data has revealed the “dark” side of Nrf2. Nrf2 and its downstream genes are overexpressed in many cancer cell lines and human cancer tissues, giving cancer cells an advantage for survival and growth. Furthermore, Nrf2 is upregulated in resistant cancer cells and is thought to be responsible for acquired chemoresistance. Therefore, it may be necessary to inhibit the Nrf2 pathway during chemotherapy. This review is primarily focused on the role of Nrf2 in cancer, with emphasis on the recent findings indicating the cancer promoting function of Nrf2 and its role in acquired chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC2652397  PMID: 18838122

Results 1-12 (12)