Antioxidants and phase 2 enzymes in macrophages: Regulation by Nrf2 signaling and protection against oxidative and electrophilic stress

Hong Zhu, Zhenquan Jia, Li Zhang, Masayuki Yamamoto, Hara P. Misra, Michael A. Trush, Yunbo Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Macrophages play important roles in immunity and other physiological processes. They are also target cells of various toxic agents, including oxidants and electrophiles. However, little is known regarding the molecular regulation and chemical inducibility of a spectrum of endogenous antioxidants and phase 2 enzymes in normal macrophages. Understanding the molecular pathway(s) controlling the coordinated expression of various macrophage antioxidants and phase 2 defenses is of importance for developing strategies to protect against macrophage injury induced by oxidants and electrophiles. Accordingly, this study was undertaken to determine the role of the nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) in regulating both constitutive and chemoprotectant-inducible expression of various antioxidants and phase 2 enzymes in mouse macrophages. The constitutive expression of a series of antioxidants and phase 2 enzymes was significantly lower in macrophages derived from Nrf2-null (Nrf2-/-) mice than those from wild-type (Nrf2 +/+) littermates. Incubation of wild-type macrophages with 3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione (D3T) led to significant induction of various antioxidants and phase 2 enzymes, including catalase, glutathione, glutathione peroxidase (GPx), glutathione reductase, glutathione S-transferase, and NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1. The inducibility of the above cellular defenses except for GPx by D3T was completely abolished in Nrf2-/- macrophages. As compared with wild-type cells, Nrf2-/- macrophages were much more susceptible to cell injury induced by reactive oxygen/nitrogen species, as well as two known macrophage toxins, acrolein and cadmium. Up-regulation of the antioxidants and phase 2 enzymes by D3T in wild-type macrophages resulted in increased resistance to the above oxidant- and electrophile-induced cell injury, whereas D3T treatment of Nrf2-/- macrophages provided only marginal or no cytoprotection. This study demonstrates that Nrf2 is an indispensable factor in controlling both constitutive and inducible expression of a wide spectrum of antioxidants and phase 2 enzymes in macrophages as well as the susceptibility of these cells to oxidative and electrophilic stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-474
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytotoxicity
  • Electrophiles
  • Macrophages
  • Nrf2
  • Oxidants
  • Phase 2 enzymes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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