Nrf2-induced antiapoptotic Bcl-xL protein enhances cell survival and drug resistance

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Nuclear transcription factor Nrf2 binds with the antioxidant-response element (ARE) in the promoter regions of cytoprotective genes, leading to their increased expression and cellular protection. In this study, we investigated the role of Nrf2 in the regulation of antiapoptotic Bcl-xL protein and its effect on cellular apoptosis. Treatment of mouse Hepa-1 cells with the antioxidant tert-butylhydroquinone led to the induction of Bcl-xL gene expression. Promoter mutagenesis, transfection, and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays identified an ARE between nucleotides −608 and −600 in the forward strand of the proximal Bcl-xL promoter that bound to Nrf2 and led to increased Bcl-xL gene expression. In addition, short interfering RNA (siRNA) inhibition and overexpression of Nrf2 led to a respective decrease and increase in Bcl-xL gene expression. These results implicated Nrf2 in the regulation of expression and induction of Bcl-xL protein. Nrf2-mediated expression of Bcl-xL protein downregulated Bax and decreased caspase 3/7 activity. SiRNA inhibition of both Nrf2 and Bcl-xL increased the susceptibility of cancer cells to etoposide-mediated cell death and reduced cell survival. Moreover, dysfunctional/mutant INrf2 (inhibitor of Nrf2) in human lung cancer cells failed to degrade Nrf2, resulting in increased Bcl-xL levels and increased cell survival. These data provide the first evidence of Nrf2 in the control of Bcl-xL expression and apoptotic cell death with implications for antioxidant protection, survival of cancer cells, and drug resistance.

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