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Chem Res Toxicol. 2019 Nov 20. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.9b00399. [Epub ahead of print]

Induction of the Antioxidant Response by the Transcription Factor NRF2 Increases Bioactivation of the Mutagenic Air Pollutant 3-Nitrobenzanthrone in Human Lung Cells.

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Department of Systems Pharmacology & Translational Therapeutics, Perelman School of Medicine , University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia , Pennsylvania 19104 , United States.
Jacqui Wood Cancer Centre, Division of Cellular Medicine, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School , University of Dundee , Dundee DD1 9SY , Scotland U.K.
Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, Perelman School of Medicine , University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia , Pennsylvania 19104 , United States.


3-Nitrobenzanthrone (3-NBA) is a suspected human carcinogen present in diesel exhaust. It requires metabolic activation via nitroreduction in order to form DNA adducts and promote mutagenesis. We have determined that human aldo-keto reductases (AKR1C1-1C3) and NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) contribute equally to the nitroreduction of 3-NBA in lung epithelial cell lines and collectively represent 50% of the nitroreductase activity. The genes encoding these enzymes are induced by the transcription factor NF-E2 p45-related factor 2 (NRF2), which raises the possibility that NRF2 activation exacerbates 3-NBA toxification. Since A549 cells possess constitutively active NRF2, we examined the effect of heterozygous (NRF2-Het) and homozygous NRF2 knockout (NRF2-KO) by CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing on the activation of 3-NBA. To evaluate whether NRF2-mediated gene induction increases 3-NBA activation, we examined the effects of NRF2 activators in immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells (HBEC3-KT). Changes in AKR1C1-1C3 and NQO1 expression by NRF2 knockout or use of NRF2 activators were confirmed by qPCR, immunoblots, and enzyme activity assays. We observed decreases in 3-NBA activation in the A549 NRF2 KO cell lines (53% reduction in A549 NRF2-Het cells and 82% reduction in A549 NRF2-KO cells) and 40-60% increases in 3-NBA bioactivation due to NRF2 activators in HBEC3-KT cells. Together, our data suggest that activation of the transcription factor NRF2 exacerbates carcinogen metabolism following exposure to diesel exhaust which may lead to an increase in 3-NBA-derived DNA adducts.

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