Nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45 (NF-E2 p45)-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a master regulator of redox homoeostasis that allows cells to adapt to oxidative stress and also promotes cell proliferation. In this review, we describe the molecular mechanisms by which oxidants/electrophilic agents and growth factors increase Nrf2 activity. In the former case, oxidants/electrophiles increase the stability of Nrf2 by antagonizing the ability of Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1) to target the transcription factor for proteasomal degradation via the cullin-3 (Cul3)–RING ubiquitin ligase CRLKeap1. In the latter case, we speculate that growth factors increase the stability of Nrf2 by stimulating phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)−protein kinase B (PKB)/Akt signalling, which in turn results in inhibitory phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) and in doing so prevents the formation of a DSGIS motif-containing phosphodegron in Nrf2 that is recognized by the β-transducin repeat-containing protein (β-TrCP) Cul1-based E3 ubiquitin ligase complex SCFβ-TrCP. We present data showing that in the absence of Keap1, the electrophile tert-butyl hydroquinone (tBHQ) can stimulate Nrf2 activity and induce the Nrf2-target gene NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase-1 (NQO1), whilst simultaneously causing inhibitory phosphorylation of GSK-3β at Ser9. Together, these observations suggest that tBHQ can suppress the ability of SCFβ-TrCP to target Nrf2 for proteasomal degradation by increasing PI3K−PKB/Akt signalling. We also propose a scheme that explains how other protein kinases that inhibit GSK-3 could stimulate induction of Nrf2-target genes by preventing formation of the DSGIS motif-containing phosphodegron in Nrf2.

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