The transcription factor Nrf2 (encoded by Nfe2l2) induces expression of numerous detoxifying and antioxidant genes in response to oxidative stress. The cytoplasmic protein Keap1 interacts with and represses Nrf2 function. Computational approaches were developed to identify factors that modulate Nrf2 in a mouse liver gene expression compendium. Forty-eight Nrf2 biomarker genes were identified using profiles from the livers of mice in which Nrf2 was activated genetically in Keap1-null mice or chemically by a potent activator of Nrf2 signaling. The rank-based Running Fisher statistical test was used to determine the correlation between the Nrf2 biomarker genes and a test set of 81 profiles with known Nrf2 activation status demonstrating a balanced accuracy of 96%. For a large number of factors examined in the compendium, we found consistent relationships between activation of Nrf2 and feminization of the liver transcriptome through suppression of the male-specific growth hormone (GH)-regulated transcription factor STAT5b. The livers of female mice exhibited higher Nrf2 activation than male mice in untreated or chemical-treated conditions. In male mice, Nrf2 was activated by treatment with ethinyl estradiol, whereas in female mice, Nrf2 was suppressed by treatment with testosterone. Nrf2 was activated in 5 models of disrupted GH signaling containing mutations in Pit1, Prop1, Ghrh, Ghrhr, and Ghr. Out of 59 chemical treatments that activated Nrf2, 36 exhibited STAT5b suppression in the male liver. The Nrf2-STAT5b coupling was absent in in vitro comparisons of chemical treatments. Treatment of male and female mice with 11 chemicals that induce oxidative stress led to activation of Nrf2 to greater extents in females than males. The enhanced basal and inducible levels of Nrf2 activation in females relative to males provides a molecular explanation for the greater resistance often seen in females vs. males to age-dependent diseases and chemical-induced toxicity.
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