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Biochem J. 2003 May 1;371(Pt 3):887-95.

Curcumin activates the haem oxygenase-1 gene via regulation of Nrf2 and the antioxidant-responsive element.

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  • 1Vascular Biology Unit, Department of Surgical Research, Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 3UJ, UK.

Abstract

The transcription factor Nrf2, which normally exists in an inactive state as a consequence of binding to a cytoskeleton-associated protein Keap1, can be activated by redox-dependent stimuli. Alteration of the Nrf2-Keap1 interaction enables Nrf2 to translocate to the nucleus, bind to the antioxidant-responsive element (ARE) and initiate the transcription of genes coding for detoxifying enzymes and cytoprotective proteins. This response is also triggered by a class of electrophilic compounds including polyphenols and plant-derived constituents. Recently, the natural antioxidants curcumin and caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) have been identified as potent inducers of haem oxygenase-1 (HO-1), a redox-sensitive inducible protein that provides protection against various forms of stress. Here, we show that in renal epithelial cells both curcumin and CAPE stimulate the expression of Nrf2 in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. This effect was associated with a significant increase in HO-1 protein expression and haem oxygenase activity. From several lines of investigation we also report that curcumin (and, by inference, CAPE) stimulates ho-1 gene activity by promoting inactivation of the Nrf2-Keap1 complex, leading to increased Nrf2 binding to the resident ho-1 AREs. Moreover, using antibodies and specific inhibitors of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways, we provide data implicating p38 MAPK in curcumin-mediated ho-1 induction. Taken together, these results demonstrate that induction of HO-1 by curcumin and CAPE requires the activation of the Nrf2/ARE pathway.

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