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1.  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
2.  Cinnamoyl-based Nrf2-Activators Targeting Human Skin Cell Photo-oxidative Stress 
Free radical biology & medicine  2008;45(4):385-395.
Strong experimental evidence suggests the involvement of photo-oxidative stress mediated by reactive oxygen species as a crucial mechanism of solar damage relevant to human skin photoaging and photocarcinogenesis. Based on the established role of antioxidant response element (ARE)-mediated gene expression in cancer chemoprevention, we tested the hypothesis that small molecule Nrf2-activators may serve a photo-chemopreventive role by targeting skin cell photo-oxidative stress. A luciferase-based reporter gene assay was used as a primary screen for the identification of novel agents that modulate the Nrf2-Keap1 signaling pathway. A series of cinnamoyl-based electrophilic Michael acceptors including cinnamic aldehyde and methyl-1-cinnamoyl-5-oxo-2-pyrrolidine-carboxylate was identified as potent Nrf2-activators. Hit confirmation was performed in a secondary screen, based on immunodetection of Nrf2 protein upregulation in human Hs27 skin fibroblasts, HaCaT keratinocytes, and primary skin keratinocytes. Bioefficacy profiling of positive test compounds in skin cells demonstrated compound-induced upregulation of hemeoxygenase I and NAD(P)H-quinone oxidoreductase, two Nrf2 target genes involved in the cellular antioxidant response. Pretreatment with cinnamoyl-based Nrf2-activators suppressed intracellular oxidative stress and protected against photo-oxidative induction of apoptosis in skin cells exposed to high doses of singlet oxygen. Our pilot studies suggest feasibility of developing cinnamoyl-based Nrf2-activators as novel photo-chemopreventive agents targeting skin cell photo-oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC3710742  PMID: 18482591
Nrf2; skin cancer; photo-oxidative stress; photo-chemoprevention; Michael acceptor; cinnamic aldehyde; singlet oxygen
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  Nrf2 and p21 regulate the fine balance between life and death by controlling ROS levels 
Cell Cycle  2009;8(20):3255-3256.
PMCID: PMC3918967  PMID: 19806015
Nrf2; Keap1; p21; ROS; oxidative stress
7.  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
8.  Activation of Nrf2 by arsenite and monomethylarsonous acid is independent of Keap1-C151: enhanced Keap1-Cul3 interaction 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2008;230(3):383-389.
Drinking water contaminated with arsenic, a human carcinogen, is a worldwide health issue. An understanding of cellular signaling events in response to arsenic exposure and rational designing of strategies to reduce arsenic damages by modulating signaling events are important to fight against arsenic-induced diseases. Previously, we reported that activation of the Nrf2-mediated cellular defense pathway confers protection against toxic effects induced by sodium arsenite [As(III)] or monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)]. Paradoxically, arsenic has been reported to induce the Nrf2-dependent signaling pathway. Here, we report the unique mechanism of Nrf2 induction by arsenic. Similar to tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) or sulforaphane (SF), arsenic induced the Nrf2-dependent response through enhancing Nrf2 protein levels by inhibiting Nrf2 ubiquitination and degradation. However, the detailed action of arsenic in Nrf2 induction is different from that of tBHQ or SF. Arsenic markedly enhanced the interaction between Keap1 and Cul3, subunits of the E3 ubiquitin ligase for Nrf2, which led to impaired dynamic assembly/disassembly of the E3 ubiquitin ligase and thus decreased its ligase activity. Furthermore, induction of Nrf2 by arsenic is independent of the previously identified C151 residue in Keap1 that is required for Nrf2 activation by tBHQ or SF. Distinct mechanisms of Nrf2 activation by seemingly harmful and beneficial reagents provide a molecular basis to design Nrf2-activating agents for therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC2610481  PMID: 18417180
9.  Nrf2 enhances resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs, the dark side of Nrf2 
Carcinogenesis  2008;29(6):1235-1243.
Drug resistance during chemotherapy is the major obstacle to the successful treatment of many cancers. Here, we report that inhibition of NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) may be a promising strategy to combat chemoresistance. Nrf2 is a critical transcription factor regulating a cellular protective response that defends cells against toxic insults from a broad spectrum of chemicals. Under normal conditions, the low constitutive amount of Nrf2 protein is maintained by the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein1 (Keap1)-mediated ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation system. Upon activation, this Keap1-dependent Nrf2 degradation mechanism is quickly inactivated, resulting in accumulation and activation of the antioxidant response element (ARE)-dependent cytoprotective genes. Since its discovery, Nrf2 has been viewed as a ‘good’ transcription factor that protects us from many diseases. In this study, we demonstrate the dark side of Nrf2: stable overexpression of Nrf2 resulted in enhanced resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic agents including cisplatin, doxorubicin and etoposide. Inversely, downregulation of the Nrf2-dependent response by overexpression of Keap1 or transient transfection of Nrf2–small interfering RNA (siRNA) rendered cancer cells more susceptible to these drugs. Upregulation of Nrf2 by the small chemical tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) also enhanced the resistance of cancer cells, indicating the feasibility of using small chemical inhibitors of Nrf2 as adjuvants to chemotherapy to increase the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents. Furthermore, we provide evidence that the strategy of using Nrf2 inhibitors to increase efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents is not limited to certain cancer types or anticancer drugs and thus can be applied during the course of chemotherapy to treat many cancer types.
PMCID: PMC3312612  PMID: 18413364
10.  Oridonin Confers Protection against Arsenic-Induced Toxicity through Activation of the Nrf2-Mediated Defensive Response 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2008;116(9):1154-1161.
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.
PMCID: PMC2535615  PMID: 18795156
antioxidant responsive element; antitumor; ARE; arsenic; chemoprevention; diterpenoid; Keap1; Nrf2; oridonin; oxidative stress; rubescensin

Results 1-10 (10)