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Free Radic Biol Med. 2004 Aug 15;37(4):433-41.

The pathways and molecular mechanisms regulating Nrf2 activation in response to chemical stress.

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Schering-Plough Research Institute, Kenilworth, NJ 07033, USA.


The induction of many antioxidant and phase II drug-metabolizing enzymes by phenolic antioxidants and electrophilic compounds is regulated at the transcriptional level. The response to these compounds is mediated by the cis-acting antioxidant response element (ARE) found in the promoter of the encoding genes. The transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2, or Nrf2, has emerged as the central protein that binds to the ARE to activate gene transcription. Data from many studies indicate that Nrf2 is constitutively and ubiquitously expressed in a number of tissues and cell lines and is thus responsible for the low-level expression of its target genes observed under physiological conditions. However, in cells exposed to oxidative stress, Nrf2 activity is increased, further driving the transcriptional activation of genes whose expression is essential to control cellular redox homeostasis. Recent studies suggest that the activation of Nrf2 involves a coordinated process and is regulated at multiple levels. Nrf2 activity is believed to be repressed through the binding of the cytoskeleton-associated protein Keap1, and its activation involves mechanisms that interfere with this interaction. Activation of Nrf2 has also been demonstrated to be dependent on mechanisms that mediate its stabilization. In this review, the mechanisms controlling this activation process as reported in recent studies will be examined and discussed, with particular emphasis on those affecting Nrf2 stability at the molecular level.

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