Differential effects of the Nrf2 activators tBHQ and CDDO-Im on the early events of T cell activation

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We previously demonstrated that activation of the transcription factor, nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) promotes CD4+ Th2 differentiation. In the current study, we assessed the role of Nrf2 in early events following T cell activation. The Nrf2 activators, tBHQ (tert-butylhydroquinone) and CDDO-Im (the imidazolide derivative of the triterpenoid CDDO), were used in conjunction with splenocytes derived from wild-type and Nrf2-null mice to distinguish between Nrf2-specific and off-target effects. CDDO-Im inhibited early IFNγ production in a largely Nrf2-dependent manner. In contrast, tBHQ and CDDO-Im had little effect on expression of CD25 or CD69. Furthermore, tBHQ inhibited GM-CSF and IL-2 production in both wild-type and Nrf2-null T cells, suggesting this effect is Nrf2-independent. Conversely, CDDO-Im caused a concentration-dependent increase in IL-2 secretion in wild-type, but not Nrf2-null, splenocytes, suggesting that Nrf2 promotes IL-2 production. Interestingly, both compounds inhibit NFκB DNA binding, where the suppression by tBHQ is Nrf2-independent and CDDO-Im is Nrf2-dependent. Surprisingly, as compared to wild-type splenocytes, Nrf2-null splenocytes showed lower nuclear accumulation of c-Jun, a member of the AP-1 family of transcription factors, which have been shown to drive multiple immune genes, including IL-2. Both Nrf2 activators caused a Nrf2-dependent trend toward increased nuclear accumulation of c-Jun. These data suggest that modulation of cytokine secretion by tBHQ likely involves multiple pathways, including AP-1, NFκB, and Nrf2. Overall, the data suggest that Nrf2 activation inhibits secretion of the Th1 cytokine IFNγ, and increases early production of IL-2, which has been shown to promote Th2 differentiation, and may support the later occurrence of Th2 polarization.

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