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Nuclear factor, erythroid 2-like 2
Available structures
PDB Ortholog search: PDBe, RCSB
Symbols NFE2L2 ; NRF2
External IDs OMIM600492 MGI108420 HomoloGene2412 ChEMBL: 1075094 GeneCards: NFE2L2 Gene
RNA expression pattern
PBB GE NFE2L2 201146 at tn.png
More reference expression data
Species Human Mouse
Entrez 4780 18024
Ensembl ENSG00000116044 ENSMUSG00000015839
UniProt Q16236 Q60795
RefSeq (mRNA) NM_001145412 NM_010902
RefSeq (protein) NP_001138884 NP_035032
Location (UCSC) Chr 2:
178.09 – 178.26 Mb
Chr 2:
75.68 – 75.7 Mb
PubMed search [1] [2]

Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2, also known as NFE2L2 or Nrf2, is a transcription factor that in humans is encoded by the NFE2L2 gene.[1] The Nrf2 antioxidant response pathway is "the primary cellular defense against the cytotoxic effects of oxidative stress."[2] Among other effects, NFE2L2 increases the expression of several antioxidant enzymes. Several drugs that stimulate the NFE2L2 pathway are being studied for treatment of diseases that are caused by oxidative stress, and dimethyl fumarate significantly reduced the progression of disability in multiple sclerosis.[3]


NFE2L2 and other genes, such as NFE2 and NFE2L1, encode basic leucine zipper (bZIP) transcription factors. They share highly conserved regions that are distinct from other bZIP families, such as JUN and FOS, although remaining regions have diverged considerably from each other.[4][5]

Under normal or unstressed conditions, Nrf2 is kept in the cytoplasm by a cluster of proteins that degrade it quickly. Under oxidative stress, Nrf2 is not degraded, but instead travels to the nucleus where it binds to a DNA promoter and initiates transcription of antioxidative genes and their proteins.

Nrf2 is kept in the cytoplasm by Kelch like-ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1) and Cullin 3 which degrade Nrf2 by ubiquitination.[6] Cullin 3 ubiquitinates its substrate, Nrf2. Keap1 is a substrate adaptor, which helps Cullin 3 ubiquitinate Nrf2. When Nrf2 is ubiquitinated, it is transported to the proteasome, where it is degraded and its components recycled. Under normal conditions Nrf2 has a half-life of only 20 minutes.[7] Oxidative stress or electrophilic stress disrupts critical cysteine residues in Keap1, disrupting the Keap1-Cul3 ubiquitination system. When Nrf2 is not ubiquitinated, it builds up in the cytoplasm,[8][9] and translocates into the nucleus. In the nucleus, it combines (forms a heterodimer) with a small Maf protein and binds to the Antioxidant Response Element (ARE) in the upstream promoter region of many antioxidative genes, and initiates their transcription.[10]

Target Genes[edit]

Activation of Nrf2 results in the induction of many cytoprotective proteins. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase 1 (Nqo1) is a prototypical Nrf2 target gene that catalyzes the reduction and detoxification of highly reactive quinones that can cause redox cycling and oxidative stress.[11]
  • Glutamate-cysteine ligase, catalytic (Gclc) and glutamate-cysteine ligase, modifier (GCLM) subunits form a heterodimer, which is the rate-limiting step in the synthesis of glutathione (GSH), a very powerful endogenous antioxidant. Both Gclc and Gclm are characteristic Nrf2 target genes, which establish Nrf2 as a regulator of glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants in the body.[12]
  • Heme oxygenase-1 (HMOX1, HO-1) is an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of heme into the antioxidant biliverdin, the anti-inflammatory agent carbon monoxide, and iron. HO-1 is a Nrf2 target gene that has been shown to protect from a variety of pathologies, including sepsis, hypertension, atherosclerosis, acute lung injury, kidney injury, and pain.[13] In a recent study, however, induction of HO-1 has been shown to exacerbate early brain injury after intracerebral hemorrhage.[14]
  • The glutathione S-transferase (GST) family includes cytosolic, mitochondrial, and microsomal enzymes that catalyze the conjugation of GSH with endogenous and xenobiotic electrophiles. After detoxification by GSH conjugation catalyzed by GSTs, the body can eliminate potentially harmful and toxic compounds. GSTs are induced by Nrf2 activation and represent an important route of detoxification.[15]
  • The UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) family catalyze the conjugation of a glucuronic acid moiety to a variety of endogenous and exogenous substances, making them more water soluble and readily excreted. Important substrates for glucuronidation include bilirubin and acetaminophen. Nrf2 has been shown to induce UGT1A1 and UGT1A6.[16]
  • Multidrug resistance-associated proteins (Mrps) are important membrane transporters that efflux various compounds from various organs and into bile or plasma, with subsequent excretion in the feces or urine, respectively. Mrps have been shown to be upregulated by Nrf2 and alteration in their expression can dramatically alter the pharmacokinetics and toxicity of compounds.[17][18]


Nrf2 is a basic leucine zipper (bZip) transcription factor with a Cap “n” Collar (CNC) structure.[1]

Nrf2 possesses six highly conserved domains called Nrf2-ECH homology (Neh) domains. The Neh1 domain is a CNC-bZIP domain that allows Nrf2 to heterodimerize with small Maf proteins.[19] The Neh2 domain allows for binding of Nrf2 to its cytosolic repressor Keap1.[20] The Neh3 domain may play a role in Nrf2 protein stability and may act as a transactivation domain, interacting with component of the transcriptional apparatus.[21] The Neh4 and Neh5 domains also act as transactivation domains, but bind to a different protein called cAMP Response Element Binding Protein (CREB), which possesses intrinsic histone acetyltransferase activity.[20] The Neh6 domain may contain a degron that is involved in the degradation of Nrf2, even in stressed cells, where the half-life of Nrf2 protein is longer than in unstressed conditions.[22]

Tissue distribution[edit]

Nrf2 is ubiquitously expressed with the highest concentrations (in descending order) in the kidney, muscle, lung, heart, liver, and brain.[1]

As a drug target[edit]

No Nrf2 inhibitors have been approved for the treatment of human diseases, although some compounds have been investigated in experimental models and preliminary clinical trials. In a phase 3 clinical trial, dimethyl fumarate (BG-12), which upregulates Nrf2, was reported to significantly reduce relapse and disability progression rates in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.[2] In a mouse model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, 2-cyano-3,12-dioxooleana-1,9(11)-dien-28-oic acid trifluoroethyl amide (CDDO-TFEA) suppressed by inhibiting Th1 and Th17 mRNA and cytokine production. Encephalitogenic T cells recovered from treated mice were hypo-responsive to myelin antigen and failed to adoptively transfer the disease.[23]

The dithiolethiones are a class of organosulfur compounds, of which oltipraz is the best studied.[24] Oltipraz inhibits cancer formation in rodent organs, including the bladder, blood, colon, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas, stomach, and trachea, skin, and mammary tissue.[25] However, clinical trials of oltipraz have not demonstrated efficacy and have shown significantside effects, including neurotoxicity and gastrointestinal toxicity.[25] Oltipraz also generates superoxide radical, which can be toxic.[26]

The diabetes drug lipoic acid is a potent activator of Nrf2 and thus increases glutathione levels, which may explain its protective effect against diabetic comorbidities.[27]

Phytoprostanes, prostaglandin-like compounds found in some medicinal plants are also described to be potent Nrf2 activators.[28] A recent study shows that flavanol (-)-epicatechin is an Nrf2 inducer and protects brain against hemorrhagic stroke.[29]


NFE2L2 has been shown to interact with:


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  3. ^ Placebo-controlled phase 3 study of oral BG-12 for relapsing Multiple Sclerosis, N Engl J Med 367:1098
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  16. ^ Yueh MF, Tukey RH (March 2007). "Nrf2-Keap1 signaling pathway regulates human UGT1A1 expression in vitro and in transgenic UGT1 mice". J. Biol. Chem. 282 (12): 8749–58. doi:10.1074/jbc.M610790200. PMID 17259171. 
  17. ^ Maher JM, Dieter MZ, Aleksunes LM, Slitt AL, Guo G, Tanaka Y, Scheffer GL, Chan JY, Manautou JE, Chen Y, Dalton TP, Yamamoto M, Klaassen CD (November 2007). "Oxidative and electrophilic stress induces multidrug resistance-associated protein transporters via the nuclear factor-E2-related factor-2 transcriptional pathway". Hepatology 46 (5): 1597–610. doi:10.1002/hep.21831. PMID 17668877. 
  18. ^ Reisman SA, Csanaky IL, Aleksunes LM, Klaassen CD (May 2009). "Altered Disposition of Acetaminophen in Nrf2-null and Keap1-knockdown Mice". Toxicol. Sci. 109 (1): 31–40. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfp047. PMC 2675638. PMID 19246624. 
  19. ^ Motohashi H, Katsuoka F, Engel JD, Yamamoto M. (April 2004). "Small Maf proteins serve as transcriptional cofactors for keratinocyte differentiation in the Keap1–Nrf2 regulatory pathway". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 101 (17): 6379–84. doi:10.1073/pnas.0305902101. PMC 404053. PMID 15087497. 
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  21. ^ Nioi P, Nguyen T, Sherratt PJ, Pickett CB (December 2005). "The Carboxy-Terminal Neh3 Domain of Nrf2 Is Required for Transcriptional Activation". Mol. Cell. Biol. 25 (24): 10895–906. doi:10.1128/MCB.25.24.10895-10906.2005. PMC 1316965. PMID 16314513. 
  22. ^ McMahon M, Thomas N, Itoh K, Yamamoto M, Hayes JD (July 2004). "Redox-regulated turnover of Nrf2 is determined by at least two separate protein domains, the redox-sensitive Neh2 degron and the redox-insensitive Neh6 degron". J. Biol. Chem. 279 (30): 31556–67. doi:10.1074/jbc.M403061200. PMID 15143058. 
  23. ^ Pareek TK, Belkadi A, Kesavapany S, Zaremba A, Loh SL, Bai L, Cohen ML, Meyer C, Liby KT, Miller RH, Sporn MB, Letterio JJ (2011). "Triterpenoid modulation of IL-17 and Nrf-2 expression ameliorates neuroinflammation and promotes remyelination in autoimmune encephalomyelitis". Sci Rep 1: 201. doi:10.1038/srep00201. PMC 3242013. PMID 22355716. 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

This article incorporates text from the United States National Library of Medicine, which is in the public domain.