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The Role of the Keap1/Nrf2 Pathway in the Cellular Response to Methylmercury

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      Abstract

      Methylmercury (MeHg) is an environmental electrophile that covalently modifies cellular proteins with reactive thiols, resulting in the formation of protein adducts. While such protein modifications, referred to as S-mercuration, are thought to be associated with the enzyme dysfunction and cellular damage caused by MeHg exposure, the current consensus is that (1) there is a cellular response to MeHg through the activation of NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) coupled to S-mercuration of its negative regulator, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), and (2) the Keap1/Nrf2 pathway protects against MeHg toxicity. In this review, we introduce our findings and discuss the observations of other workers concerning the S-mercuration of cellular proteins by MeHg and the importance of the Keap1/Nrf2 pathway in protection against MeHg toxicity in cultured cells and mice.

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      An Nrf2/small Maf heterodimer mediates the induction of phase II detoxifying enzyme genes through antioxidant response elements.

      The induction of phase II detoxifying enzymes is an important defense mechanism against intake of xenobiotics. While this group of enzymes is believed to be under the transcriptional control of antioxidant response elements (AREs), this contention is experimentally unconfirmed. Since the ARE resembles the binding sequence of erythroid transcription factor NF-E2, we investigated the possibility that the phase II enzyme genes might be regulated by transcription factors that also bind to the NF-E2 sequence. The expression profiles of a number of transcription factors suggest that an Nrf2/small Maf heterodimer is the most likely candidate to fulfill this role in vivo. To directly test these questions, we disrupted the murine nrf2 gene in vivo. While the expression of phase II enzymes (e.g., glutathione S-transferase and NAD(P)H: quinone oxidoreductase) was markedly induced by a phenolic antioxidant in vivo in both wild type and heterozygous mutant mice, the induction was largely eliminated in the liver and intestine of homozygous nrf2-mutant mice. Nrf2 was found to bind to the ARE with high affinity only as a heterodimer with a small Maf protein, suggesting that Nrf2/small Maf activates gene expression directly through the ARE. These results demonstrate that Nrf2 is essential for the transcriptional induction of phase II enzymes and the presence of a coordinate transcriptional regulatory mechanism for phase II enzyme genes. The nrf2-deficient mice may prove to be a very useful model for the in vivo analysis of chemical carcinogenesis and resistance to anti-cancer drugs.
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        Keap1 represses nuclear activation of antioxidant responsive elements by Nrf2 through binding to the amino-terminal Neh2 domain.

        Transcription factor Nrf2 is essential for the antioxidant responsive element (ARE)-mediated induction of phase II detoxifying and oxidative stress enzyme genes. Detailed analysis of differential Nrf2 activity displayed in transfected cell lines ultimately led to the identification of a new protein, which we named Keap1, that suppresses Nrf2 transcriptional activity by specific binding to its evolutionarily conserved amino-terminal regulatory domain. The closest homolog of Keap1 is a Drosophila actin-binding protein called Kelch, implying that Keap1 might be a Nrf2 cytoplasmic effector. We then showed that electrophilic agents antagonize Keap1 inhibition of Nrf2 activity in vivo, allowing Nrf2 to traverse from the cytoplasm to the nucleus and potentiate the ARE response. We postulate that Keap1 and Nrf2 constitute a crucial cellular sensor for oxidative stress, and together mediate a key step in the signaling pathway that leads to transcriptional activation by this novel Nrf2 nuclear shuttling mechanism. The activation of Nrf2 leads in turn to the induction of phase II enzyme and antioxidative stress genes in response to electrophiles and reactive oxygen species.
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          Molecular mechanisms of the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway in stress response and cancer evolution.

          The Keap1–Nrf2 regulatory pathway plays a central role in the protection of cells against oxidative and xenobiotic damage. Under unstressed conditions, Nrf2 is constantly ubiquitinated by the Cul3–Keap1 ubiquitin E3 ligase complex and rapidly degraded in proteasomes. Upon exposure to electrophilic and oxidative stresses, reactive cysteine residues of Keap1 become modified, leading to a decline in the E3 ligase activity, stabilization of Nrf2 and robust induction of a battery of cytoprotective genes. Biochemical and structural analyses have revealed that the intact Keap1 homodimer forms a cherry-bob structure in which one molecule of Nrf2 associates with two molecules of Keap1 by using two binding sites within the Neh2 domain of Nrf2. This two-site binding appears critical for Nrf2 ubiquitination. In many human cancers, missense mutations in KEAP1 and NRF2 genes have been identified. These mutations disrupt the Keap1–Nrf2 complex activity involved in ubiquitination and degradation of Nrf2 and result in constitutive activation of Nrf2. Elevated expression of Nrf2 target genes confers advantages in terms of stress resistance and cell proliferation in normal and cancer cells. Discovery and development of selective Nrf2 inhibitors should make a critical contribution to improved cancer therapy.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            1Environmental Biology Section, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8575, Japan
            2Doctoral Program in Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8575, Japan
            Author notes

            Academic Editor: Mi-Kyoung Kwak

            Journal
            Oxid Med Cell Longev
            Oxid Med Cell Longev
            OXIMED
            Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity
            Hindawi Publishing Corporation
            1942-0900
            1942-0994
            2013
            26 June 2013
            : 2013
            23878621
            3710591
            10.1155/2013/848279
            Copyright © 2013 Yoshito Kumagai et al.

            This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Categories
            Review Article

            Molecular medicine

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