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J Biol Chem. 2006 May 26;281(21):14573-9. Epub 2006 Mar 21.

Transcription factor Nrf2 protects HepG2 cells against CYP2E1 plus arachidonic acid-dependent toxicity.

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Department of Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, One Gustave L. Levy Place, New York, NY 10029, USA.


Nrf2 is a transcription factor that regulates important antioxidant and phase II detoxification genes. Arachidonic acid (AA) causes CYP2E1-dependent toxicity in HepG2 cells. The ability of Nrf2 to protect against CYP2E1-dependent AA toxicity and its possible mechanism were evaluated. AA activates Nrf2 in CYP2E1-expressing HepG2 cells (E47 cells), increasing Nrf2 protein and mRNA levels, Nrf2 nuclear translocation, and Nrf2-ARE binding activity. These increases in Nrf2 are associated with elevated expression of Nrf2-regulated antioxidant genes. Overexpression of Nrf2 by transient transfection of plasmid Nrf2 confers resistance of E47 cells against AA toxicity. Blocking Nrf2 with small interfering RNA (siRNA)-Nrf2 potentiates the CYP2E1-dependent AA toxicity. This enhanced toxicity is accompanied by decreases of cellular GSH levels and increases in production of reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxidation. There is also a potentiation of mitochondrial damage in the presence of siRNA-Nrf2. The protective effects of Nrf2 against CYP2E1-dependent toxicity can be blocked by l-buthionine-(S,R)-sulfoximine, a specific inhibitor of glutamate-cysteine ligase, which is a rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of GSH and is regulated by Nrf2. Elevation of GSH by supplementing with glutathione ethyl ester can partially reverse the enhanced AA toxicity by siRNA-Nrf2. Moreover, in contrast to AA, l-buthionine-(S,R)-sulfoximine toxicity is not prevented by plasmid Nrf2 probably because protective GSH cannot be synthesized. Together, these results suggest that Nrf2, through up-regulation of glutamate-cysteine ligase and increase of GSH levels, protects against CYP2E1-dependent AA toxicity.

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