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Chem Biol Interact. 2011 Jun 30;192(1-2):37-45. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2010.09.025. Epub 2010 Oct 23.

The cap'n'collar transcription factor Nrf2 mediates both intrinsic resistance to environmental stressors and an adaptive response elicited by chemopreventive agents that determines susceptibility to electrophilic xenobiotics.

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Biomedical Research Institute, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 9SY, Scotland, United Kingdom.


Transcription factor Nrf2 regulates genes encoding drug-metabolising enzymes and drug transporters, as well as enzymes involved in the glutathione, thioredoxin and peroxiredoxin antioxidant pathways. Using mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cells from Nrf2(+/+) and Nrf2(-/-) mice, in conjunction with the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) cytotoxicity assay, we have shown that loss of Nrf2 diminishes the intrinsic resistance of mutant fibroblasts towards isothiocyanates (i.e. sulforaphane), epoxides (i.e. (2S,3S)-(-)-3-phenylglycidol, ethyl 3-phenylglycidate and styrene-7,8-epoxide), peroxides, hydroquinones and quinones (i.e. tert-butylhydroperoxide, tert-butylhydroquinone and 2,3-dimethoxynaphthoquinone), NaAsO(2), and various mutagens, including β-propiolactone, cisplatin, mechlorethamine and methyl methanesulfonate to ∼50% of that observed in equivalent wild-type cells. Exposure of Nrf2(+/+) fibroblasts, but not Nrf2(-/-) fibroblasts, to a non-toxic dose (3μmol/l) of the chemopreventive agent sulforaphane (Sul) stimulated an adaptive response that, 18h after first being subjected to the isothiocyanate, caused an induction of between 2- and 10-fold in the levels of mRNA for glutamate-cysteine ligase catalytic (Gclc) and modifier (Gclm) subunits, glutathione S-transferases and NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase-1 (Nqo1); this was accompanied by an increase in total glutathione of between 1.5- and 1.9-fold. Pre-treatment of Nrf2(+/+) MEF cells with 3μM Sul for 18h prior to challenge with xenobiotics, conferred between 2.0- and 4.0-fold protection against isothiocyanates, reactive carbonyls, peroxides, quinones, NaAsO(2), and the anticancer nitrogen mustard chlorambucil, but pre-treatment with 3μM Sul produced no such increased tolerance in Nrf2(-/-) MEF cells. The inducible resistance towards acrolein, cumene hydroperoxide and chlorambucil, produced by pre-treating wild-type fibroblasts with 3μM Sul, was dependent on glutathione because simultaneous pre-treatment with 5μmol/l buthionine sulfoximine abolished the increased tolerance of these xenobiotics. However, inducible resistance towards menadione that occurred upon pre-treatment with 3μM Sul was independent of glutathione and may be due to upregulation of Nqo1. Thus Nrf2 controls cellular resistance against electrophiles.

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