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Anti-oxidative stress regulator NF-E2-related factor 2 mediates the adaptive induction of antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes by lipid peroxidation metabolite 4-hydroxynonenal

Ying Huang1, Wenge Li12 and Ah-Ng Tony Kong1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmaceutics, Center for Cancer Prevention Research, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 160 Frelinghuysen Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA

2 Present address: Department of Genetics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1301 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, NY, 10461, USA

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Cell & Bioscience 2012, 2:40  doi:10.1186/2045-3701-2-40

Published: 28 November 2012



NF-E2-related factor 2 (NRF2) regulates a battery of antioxidative and phase II drug metabolizing/detoxifying genes through binding to the antioxidant response elements (ARE). NRF2-ARE signaling plays a central role in protecting cells from a wide spectrum of reactive toxic species including reactive oxygen/nitrogen species (RONS). 4-hydroxylnonenal (4-HNE) is a major end product from lipid peroxidation of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) induced by oxidative stress, and it is highly reactive to nucleophilic sites in DNA and proteins, causing cytotoxicity and genotoxicity. In this study, we examined the role of NRF2 in regulating the 4-HNE induced gene expression of antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes.


When HeLa cells were treated with 4-HNE, NRF2 rapidly transloated into the nucleus, as determined by the distribution of NRF2 tagged with the enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) and increased NRF2 protein in the nuclear fraction. Transcriptional activity of ARE-luciferase was significantly induced by 0.01-10 μM of 4-HNE in a dose-dependent manner, and the induction could be blocked by pretreatment with glutathione (GSH). 4-HNE induced transcriptional expression of glutathione S-transferase (GST) A4, aldoketone reductase (AKR) 1C1 and heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), and the induction was attenuated by knocking down NRF2 using small interfering RNA.


NRF2 is critical in mediating 4-HNE induced expression of antioxidant and detoxifying genes. This may account for one of the major cellular defense mechanisms against reactive metabolites of lipids peroxidation induced by oxidative stress and protect cells from cytotoxicity.

NRF2; 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE); Antioxidant response element (ARE); Oxidative stress