Phase I to II cross-induction of xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes: A feedforward control mechanism for potential hormetic responses

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Hormetic responses to xenobiotic exposure likely occur as a result of overcompensation by the homeostatic control systems operating in biological organisms. However, the mechanisms underlying overcompensation that leads to hormesis are still unclear. A well-known homeostatic circuit in the cell is the gene induction network comprising phase I, II and III metabolizing enzymes, which are responsible for xenobiotic detoxification, and in many cases, bioactivation. By formulating a differential equation-based computational model, we investigated in this study whether hormesis can arise from the operation of this gene/enzyme network. The model consists of two feedback and one feedforward controls. With the phase I negative feedback control, xenobiotic X activates nuclear receptors to induce cytochrome P450 enzyme, which bioactivates X into a reactive metabolite X′. With the phase II negative feedback control, X′ activates transcription factor Nrf2 to induce phase II enzymes such as glutathione S-transferase and glutamate cysteine ligase, etc., which participate in a set of reactions that lead to the metabolism of X′ into a less toxic conjugate X″. The feedforward control involves phase I to II cross-induction, in which the parent chemical X can also induce phase II enzymes directly through the nuclear receptor and indirectly through transcriptionally upregulating Nrf2. As a result of the active feedforward control, a steady-state hormetic relationship readily arises between the concentrations of the reactive metabolite X′ and the extracellular parent chemical X to which the cell is exposed. The shape of dose–response evolves over time from initially monotonically increasing to J-shaped at the final steady state—a temporal sequence consistent with adaptation-mediated hormesis. The magnitude of the hormetic response is enhanced by increases in the feedforward gain, but attenuated by increases in the bioactivation or phase II feedback loop gains. Our study suggests a possibly common mechanism for the hormetic responses observed with many mutagens/carcinogens whose activities require bioactivation by phase I enzymes. Feedforward control, often operating in combination with negative feedback regulation in a homeostatic system, may be a general control theme responsible for steady-state hormesis.

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