The possible repositioning of an oral anti-arthritic drug, auranofin, for Nrf2-activating therapy: The demonstration of Nrf2-dependent anti-oxidative action using a zebrafish model

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The Nrf2 pathway is a biological defense system against oxidative stress. The pharmacological activation of the Nrf2 pathway is a promising therapy for oxidative stress-related diseases, but it has been challenging to find an Nrf2 activator with acceptable toxicity. To circumvent this problem, we focused on an already approved oral anti-arthritic drug, auranofin that has been reported to have the potential to activate Nrf2. We used a zebrafish model to investigate whether auranofin has protective action against oxidative stress in vivo. Auranofin pre-treatment considerably improved the survival of zebrafish larvae that were challenged with a lethal dose of hydrogen peroxide. This protective effect was not observed in an Nrf2 mutant zebrafish strain, suggesting that the activation of the biological defense against oxidative stress was Nrf2-dependent. Auranofin-induced protection was further tested by challenges with redox-active heavy metals. A clear protective effect was observed against arsenite, a highly redox-reactive toxicant. In addition, this effect was also demonstrated to be Nrf2-dependent based on the analysis of an Nrf2 mutant strain. These results clearly demonstrate the anti-oxidative action of auranofin and encourage the repositioning of auranofin as a drug that improves oxidative stress-related pathology.Graphical abstractHighlightsAuranofin showed strong anti-oxidative stress activity in zebrafish.The Nrf2 dependency of the auranofin activity was verified using zebrafish genetics.Auranofin can be repositioned for the treatment of oxidative stress-related diseases.

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