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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.  The Nrf2-inducers tanshinone I and dihydrotanshinone protect human skin cells and reconstructed human skin against solar simulated UV☆ 
Redox Biology  2013;1(1):532-541.
Exposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a causative factor in skin photocarcinogenesis and photoaging, and an urgent need exists for improved strategies for skin photoprotection. The redox-sensitive transcription factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2), a master regulator of the cellular antioxidant defense against environmental electrophilic insult, has recently emerged as an important determinant of cutaneous damage from solar UV, and the concept of pharmacological activation of Nrf2 has attracted considerable attention as a novel approach to skin photoprotection. In this study, we examined feasibility of using tanshinones, a novel class of phenanthrenequinone-based cytoprotective Nrf2 inducers derived from the medicinal plant Salvia miltiorrhiza, for protection of cultured human skin cells and reconstructed human skin against solar simulated UV. Using a dual luciferase reporter assay in human Hs27 dermal fibroblasts pronounced transcriptional activation of Nrf2 by four major tanshinones [tanshinone I (T-I), dihydrotanshinone (DHT), tanshinone IIA (T-II-A) and cryptotanshinone (CT)] was detected. In fibroblasts, the more potent tanshinones T-I and DHT caused a significant increase in Nrf2 protein half-life via blockage of ubiquitination, ultimately resulting in upregulated expression of cytoprotective Nrf2 target genes (GCLC, NQO1) with the elevation of cellular glutathione levels. Similar tanshinone-induced changes were also observed in HaCaT keratinocytes. T-I and DHT pretreatment caused significant suppression of skin cell death induced by solar simulated UV and riboflavin-sensitized UVA. Moreover, feasibility of tanshinone-based cutaneous photoprotection was tested employing a human skin reconstruct exposed to solar simulated UV (80 mJ/cm2 UVB; 1.53 J/cm2 UVA). The occurrence of markers of epidermal solar insult (cleaved procaspase 3, pycnotic nuclei, eosinophilic cytoplasm, acellular cavities) was significantly attenuated in DHT-treated reconstructs that displayed increased immunohistochemical staining for Nrf2 and γ-GCS together with the elevation of total glutathione levels. Taken together, our data suggest the feasibility of achieving tanshinone-based cutaneous Nrf2-activation and photoprotection.
Graphical abstract
•Tanshinones are phenanthrenequinone-based Nrf2 inducers active in human skin cells.•Tanshinones upregulate Nrf2 target gene expression with the elevation of glutathione.•Dihydrotanshinone protects cultured human skin cells against solar simulated UV.•Dihydrotanshinone protects reconstructed human skin against acute photodamage.
PMCID: PMC3836278  PMID: 24273736
CHX, cycloheximide; CT, cryptotanshinone; DHT, dihydrotanshinone; DMEM, Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium; γ-GCS, gamma-glutamate-cysteine ligase; H&E, hematoxylin and eosin; HMOX1, heme oxygenase-1; IHC, immunohistochemistry; MTT, 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide; NQO1, NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase 1; Nrf2, nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2; ROS, reactive oxygen species; SF, sulforaphane; SLL, solar simulated UV light; T-I, tanshinone I; T-II-A, tanshinone IIA; UVA, ultraviolet; UVB, ultraviolet B; Tanshinone I; Dihydrotanshinone; Nrf2; Solar simulated ultraviolet light; Skin photoprotection
3.  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
4.  Therapeutic Potential of Nrf2 Activators in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Nephropathy 
Diabetes  2011;60(11):3055-3066.
To determine whether dietary compounds targeting NFE2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) activation can be used to attenuate renal damage and preserve renal function during the course of streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetic nephropathy.
Diabetes was induced in Nrf2+/+ and Nrf2−/− mice by STZ injection. Sulforaphane (SF) or cinnamic aldehyde (CA) was administered 2 weeks after STZ injection and metabolic indices and renal structure and function were assessed (18 weeks). Markers of diabetes including blood glucose, insulin, polydipsia, polyuria, and weight loss were measured. Pathological alterations and oxidative damage in glomeruli were also determined. Changes in protein expression of the Nrf2 pathway, as well as transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), fibronectin (FN), collagen IV, and p21/WAF1Cip1 (p21) were analyzed. The molecular mechanisms of Nrf2-mediated protection were investigated in an in vitro model using human renal mesangial cells (HRMCs).
SF or CA significantly attenuated common metabolic disorder symptoms associated with diabetes in Nrf2+/+ but not in Nrf2−/− mice, indicating SF and CA function through specific activation of the Nrf2 pathway. Furthermore, SF or CA improved renal performance and minimized pathological alterations in the glomerulus of STZ-Nrf2+/+ mice. Nrf2 activation reduced oxidative damage and suppressed the expression of TGF-β1, extracellular matrix proteins and p21 both in vivo and in HRMCs. In addition, Nrf2 activation reverted p21-mediated growth inhibition and hypertrophy of HRMCs under hyperglycemic conditions.
We provide experimental evidence indicating that dietary compounds targeting Nrf2 activation can be used therapeutically to improve metabolic disorder and relieve renal damage induced by diabetes.
PMCID: PMC3198067  PMID: 22025779
5.  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
6.  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

Results 1-6 (6)