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J Biol Chem. 2009 May 15;284(20):13856-68. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M808084200. Epub 2009 Mar 11.

Prothymosin-alpha mediates nuclear import of the INrf2/Cul3 Rbx1 complex to degrade nuclear Nrf2.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21201.


Nrf2-mediated coordinated induction of a battery of defensive genes is a critical mechanism in cellular protection and survival. INrf2 (Keap1), an inhibitor of Nrf2, functions as an adaptor for Cul3 Rbx1-mediated degradation of Nrf2. A majority of the INrf2/Cul3 Rbx1 complex is localized in the cytosol that degrades cytosolic Nrf2. However, 10-15% of INrf2 is also localized inside the nucleus. INrf2 does not contain a defined nuclear import signal, and the mechanism of nuclear import and its function inside the nucleus remain obscure. Present studies demonstrate that the DGR region of INrf2 is required for nuclear import of INrf2. Studies also demonstrate that Cul3 and Rbx1 are also imported inside the nucleus in complex with INrf2. Interestingly, Nrf2 and prothymosin-alpha both bind to the DGR region of INrf2. However, it is prothymosin-alpha and not Nrf2 that mediates nuclear import of INrf2/Cul3 Rbx1 complex. Antioxidant treatment increases nuclear import of INrf2/Cul3 Rbx1 complex. The INrf2/Cul3 Rbx1 complex inside the nucleus exchanges prothymosin-alpha with Nrf2, resulting in degradation of Nrf2. These results led to the conclusion that prothymosin-alpha-mediated nuclear import of INrf2/Cul3 Rbx1 complex leads to ubiquitination and degradation of Nrf2 inside the nucleus presumably to regulate nuclear level of Nrf2 and rapidly switch off the activation of Nrf2 downstream gene expression.

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