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J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2007 Jan;66(1):75-85.

Expression of Nrf2 in neurodegenerative diseases.

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Department of Pathology, University of Pennsylvania, School of Dental Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.


In response to oxidative stress, the nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) transcription factor translocates from the cytoplasm into the nucleus and transactivates expression of genes with antioxidant activity. Despite this cellular mechanism, oxidative damage is abundant in Alzheimer and Parkinson disease (AD and PD). To investigate mechanisms by which Nrf2 activity may be aberrant or insufficient in neurodegenerative conditions, we assessed Nrf2 localization in affected brain regions of AD, Lewy body variant of AD (LBVAD), and PD. By immunohistochemistry, Nrf2 is expressed in both the nucleus and the cytoplasm of neurons in normal hippocampi with predominant expression in the nucleus. In AD and LBVAD, Nrf2 was predominantly cytoplasmic in hippocampal neurons and was not a major component of beta amyloid plaques or neurofibrillary tangles. By immunoblotting, we observed a significant decrease in nuclear Nrf2 levels in AD cases. In contrast, Nrf2 was strongly nuclear in PD nigral neurons but cytoplasmic in substantia nigra of normal, AD, and LBVAD cases. These findings suggest that Nrf2-mediated transcription is not induced in neurons in AD despite the presence of oxidative stress. In PD, nuclear localization of Nrf2 is strongly induced, but this response may be insufficient to protect neurons from degeneration.

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