Fresh Medium or L-Cystine as an Effective Nrf2 Inducer for Cytoprotection in Cell Culture

Wujing Dai, Qin M. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Nrf2 gene encodes a transcription factor best known for regulating the expression of antioxidant and detoxification genes. A long list of small molecules has been reported to induce Nrf2 protein via Keap1 oxidation or alkylation. Many of these Nrf2 inducers exhibit off-target or toxic effects due to their nature as electrophiles. In searching for non-toxic Nrf2 inducers, we found that a culture medium change to fresh DMEM is capable of inducing Nrf2 protein in HeLa, HEK293, AC16 and MCF7 cells. Testing the components of DMEM led to the discovery of L-Cystine as an effective Nrf2 inducer. L-Cystine induces a dose-dependent increase of Nrf2 protein, from 0.1 to 1.6 mM. RNA-seq analyses and RT-PCR revealed an induction of multiple Nrf2 downstream genes, including NQO1, HMOX1, GCLC, GCLM, SRXN1, TXNRD1, AKR1C and OSGIN1 by 0.8 mM L-Cystine. The induction of Nrf2 protein was dependent on L-Cystine entering cells via the cystine/glutamate antiporter and the presence of Keap1. The half-life of Nrf2 protein increased from 19.4 min to 30.9 min with 0.8 mM L-Cystine treatment. L-Cystine was capable of eliciting cytoprotection by reducing ROS generation and protecting against oxidant- or doxorubicin-induced apoptosis. As an amino acid derivative, L-Cystine is considered a non-toxic Nrf2 inducer that exhibits the potential for protection against oxidative stress and tissue injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number291
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • amino acid
  • antioxidant and detoxification genes
  • cytoprotection
  • non-toxic
  • oxidative stress
  • transcription

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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