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Toxicol Lett. 2002 Jun 7;132(1):27-36.

Acrolein causes transcriptional induction of phase II genes by activation of Nrf2 in human lung type II epithelial (A549) cells.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of Toxicological Sciences, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21205-2179, USA.


Acrolein, an alpha,beta-unsaturated aldehyde, is by far the strongest electrophile present in cigarette smoke which is involved in several lung pathophysiological conditions. Acrolein depletes glutathione and creates thiol imbalance. Acrolein due to thiol imbalance as well as covalent modification of cysteine is known to inhibit the activity of redox sensitive transcription factors such as NF-kappaB and AP-1. Exposure of human type II lung epithelial (A549) cells to non-lethal dose of acrolein (150 fmol/cell for 1 h) depletes 80% of intracellular glutathione and increases the transcription of gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase (gamma-GCS) at 6-12 h post-treatment, which helps in replenishing the glutathione to normal level. Acrolein treatment activates transcription of phase II genes in general, as indicated by an increase in mRNA for NAD (P) H:quinone oxidoreductase (NQO1). Western blot analysis revealed the increased level of the transcription factor, Nrf2 in the nuclear extract from acrolein treated cells. Electrophoretic mobility shift assay shows increased binding of nuclear proteins to human antioxidant response element (ARE) consensus sequence after treatment with acrolein. The involvement of Nrf2 in ARE mediated transcriptional activation in response to acrolein exposure has been confirmed by human NQO1-ARE reporter assay. The ability of acrolein to transcriptionaly activate genes responsible for phase II enzymes may form the basis of resistance against cell death and can have implications in cigarette smoke related lung carcinogenesis.

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