Nrf2 loss accentuates parkinsonian pathology and behavioral dysfunction in human α-synuclein overexpressing mice

Annadurai Anandhan, Nhat Nguyen, Arjun Syal, Luke A. Dreher, Matthew Dodson, Donna D. Zhang, Lalitha Madhavan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (NRF2) is a central regulator of cellular stress responses and its transcriptional activation promotes multiple cellular defense and survival mechanisms. The loss of NRF2 has been shown to increase oxidative and proteotoxic stress, two key pathological features of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease (PD). Moreover, compromised redox homeostasis and protein quality control can cause the accumulation of pathogenic proteins, including alpha-synuclein (α-Syn) which plays a key role in PD. However, despite this link, the precise mechanisms by which NRF2 may regulate PD pathology is not clear. In this study, we generated a humanized mouse model to study the importance of NRF2 in the context of α-Syn-driven neuropathology in PD. Specifically, we developed NRF2 knockout and wild-type mice that overexpress human α-Syn (hα-Syn+/Nrf2-/- and hα-Syn+/Nrf2+/+ respectively) and tested changes in their behavior through nest building, challenging beam, and open field tests at three months of age. Cellular and molecular alterations in α-Syn, including phosphorylation and subsequent oligomerization, as well as changes in oxidative stress, inflammation, and autophagy were also assessed across multiple brain regions. It was observed that although monomeric α-Syn levels did not change, compared to their wild-type counterparts, hα-Syn+/Nrf2-/- mice exhibited increased phosphorylation and oligomerization of α-Syn. This was associated with a loss of tyrosine hydroxylase expressing dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, and more pronounced behavioral deficits reminiscent of early-stage PD, in the hα-Syn+/Nrf2-/- mice. Furthermore, hα-Syn+/Nrf2-/- mice showed significantly amplified oxidative stress, greater expression of inflammatory markers, and signs of increased autophagic burden, especially in the midbrain, striatum and cortical brain regions. These results support an important role for NRF2, early in PD progression. More broadly, it indicates NRF2 biology as fundamental to PD pathogenesis and suggests that targeting NRF2 activation may delay the onset and progression of PD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)964-982
Number of pages19
JournalAging and Disease
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • Motor dysfunction
  • NRF2
  • Oxidative stress
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Proteotoxic stress
  • α-Synuclein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cell Biology


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