Nrf2 at the heart of oxidative stress and cardiac protection

Qin M. Chen, Anthony J. Maltagliati

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

281 Scopus citations


The NFE2L2 gene encodes the transcription factor Nrf2 best known for regulating the expression of antioxidant and detoxification genes. Gene knockout approaches have demonstrated its universal cytoprotective features. While Nrf2 has been the topic of intensive research in cancer biology since its discovery in 1994, understanding the role of Nrf2 in cardiovascular disease has just begun. The literature concerning Nrf2 in experimental models of atherosclerosis, ischemia, reperfusion, cardiac hypertrophy, heart failure, and diabetes supports its cardiac protective character. In addition to antioxidant and detoxification genes, Nrf2 has been found to regulate genes participating in cell signaling, transcription, anabolic metabolism, autophagy, cell proliferation, extracellular matrix remodeling, and organ development, suggesting that Nrf2 governs damage resistance as well as wound repair and tissue remodeling. A long list of small molecules, most derived from natural products, have been characterized as Nrf2 inducers. These compounds disrupt Keap1-mediated Nrf2 ubquitination, thereby prohibiting proteasomal degradation and allowing Nrf2 protein to accumulate and translocate to the nucleus, where Nrf2 interacts with sMaf to bind to ARE in the promoter of genes. Recently alternative mechanisms driving Nrf2 protein increase have been revealed, including removal of Keap1 by autophagy due to p62/SQSTM1 binding, inhibition of βTrCP or Synoviolin/Hrd1- mediated ubiquitination of Nrf2, and de novo Nrf2 protein translation. We review here a large volume of literature reporting historical and recent discoveries about the function and regulation of Nrf2 gene. Multiple lines of evidence presented here support the potential of dialing up the Nrf2 pathway for cardiac protection in the clinic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-97
Number of pages21
JournalPhysiological Genomics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Antioxidant response element
  • Ischemia and reperfusion
  • Natural products
  • Protein translation
  • Ubiquitination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics


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