Nrf2 as a Master Redox Switch in Turning on the Cellular Signaling Involved in the Induction of Cytoprotective Genes by Some Chemopreventive Phytochemicals
A wide array of dietary phytochemicals have been reported to induce the expression of enzymes involved in both cellular antioxidant defenses and elimination/inactivation of electrophilic carcinogens. Induction of such cytoprotective enzymes by edible phytochemicals largely accounts for their cancer chemopreventive and chemoprotective activities. Nuclear factor-erythroid-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) plays a crucial role in the coordinated induction of those genes encoding many stress-responsive and cytoptotective enzymes and related proteins. These include NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase-1, heme oxygenase-1, glutamate cysteine ligase, glutathione S-transferase, glutathione peroxidase, thioredoxin, etc. In resting cells, Nrf2 is sequestered in the cytoplasm as an inactive complex with the repressor Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1). The release of Nrf2 from its repressor is most likely to be achieved by alterations in the structure of Keap1. Keap1 contains several reactive cysteine residues that function as sensors of cellular redox changes. Oxidation or covalent modification of some of these critical cysteine thiols would stabilize Nrf2, thereby facilitating nuclear accumulation of Nrf2. After translocation into nucleus, Nrf2 forms a heterodimer with other transcription factors, such as small Maf, which in turn binds to the 5'-upstream CIS-acting regulatory sequence, termed antioxidant response elements (ARE) or electrophile response elements (EpRE), located in the promoter region of genes encoding various antioxidant and phase 2 detoxifying enzymes. Certain dietary chemopreventive agents target Keap1 by oxidizing or chemically modifying one or more of its specific cysteine thiols, thereby stabilizing Nrf2. In addition, phosphorylation of specific serine or threonine residues present in Nrf2 by upstream kinases may also facilitate the nuclear localization of Nrf2. Multiple mechanisms of Nrf2 activation by signals mediated by one or more of the upstream kinases, such as mitogen-activated protein kinases, phosphatidylionositol-3-kinase/Akt, protein kinase C, and casein kinase-2 have recently been proposed. This review highlights the cytoprotective gene expression induced by some representative dietary chemopreventive phytochemicals with the Nrf2-Keap1 system as a prime molecular target.