An inducible form of Nrf2 confers enhanced protection against acute oxidative stresses in RPE cells
Increasing evidence suggests that overt oxidative stress within the retina plays an important role in the progression of age-related retinal decline, and in particular, in the disease age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Nuclear factor erythroid 2-like 2 (Nrf2) is a master transcription factor that upregulates numerous of antioxidant/detoxification genes. Nrf2−/− mice develop progressive retinal degeneration that includes the formation of drusen-like deposits, lipofuscin, and sub-retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) deposition of inflammatory proteins. Furthermore, strategies that promote Nrf2 activation have shown promise for the treatment of cone/rod dystrophies and other forms of retinal degeneration. Herein we explored whether utilizing a small molecule-inducible version of Nrf2 confers additional protection against oxidative stresses when compared to a constitutively expressed version of Nrf2. Stable populations of human ARPE-19 cells were generated that express either constitutive FLAG-tagged (FT) Nrf2 (FT cNrf2) or doxycycline (dox)-inducible FT Nrf2 (FT iNrf2) at low levels (˜4.5 fold vs. endogenous). Expression of either FT cNRF2 or FT iNrf2 upregulated canonical antioxidant genes (e.g., NQO1, GCLC). Both FT cNrf2 and FT iNrf2 ARPE-19 cells were protected from cigarette smoke extract-induced nitric oxide generation to similar extents. However, only FT iNrf2 cells demonstrated enhanced resistance to doxorubicin and cumene hydroperoxide-mediated increases in mitochondrial superoxide and lipid peroxidation, respectively, and did so in a dox-dependent manner. These results suggest that therapeutic approaches which conditionally control Nrf2 activity may provide additional protection against acute oxidative stresses when compared to constitutively expressed Nrf2 strategies.