Transcription factor Nrf2 activation by inorganic arsenic in cultured keratinocytes: involvement of hydrogen peroxide

Exp Cell Res. 2003 Nov 1;290(2):234-45. doi: 10.1016/s0014-4827(03)00341-0.


Inorganic arsenic is a well-documented human carcinogen that targets the skin. The induction of oxidative stress, as shown with arsenic, may have a bearing on the carcinogenic mechanism of this metalloid. The transcription factor Nrf2 is a key player in the regulation of genes encoding for many antioxidative response enzymes. Thus, the effect of inorganic arsenic (as sodium arsenite) on Nrf2 expression and localization was studied in HaCaT cells, an immortalized human keratinocyte cell line. We found, for the first time, that arsenic enhanced cellular expression of Nrf2 at the transcriptional and protein levels and activated expression of Nrf2-related genes in these cells. In addition, arsenic exposure caused nuclear accumulation of Nrf2 in association with downstream activation of Nrf2-mediated oxidative response genes. Arsenic simultaneously increased the expression of Keap1, a regulator of Nrf2 activity. The coordinated induction of Keap1 expression and nuclear Nrf2 accumulation induced by arsenic suggests that Keap1 is important to arsenic-induced Nrf2 activation. Furthermore, when cells were pretreated with scavengers of hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)) such as catalase-polyethylene glycol (PEG-CAT) or Tiron, arsenic-induced nuclear Nrf2 accumulation was suppressed, whereas CuDIPSH, a cell-permeable superoxide dismutase (SOD) mimic compound that produces H(2)O(2) from superoxide (*O(2)(-)), enhanced Nrf2 nuclear accumulation. These results indicate that H(2)O(2), rather than *O(2)(-), is the mediator of nuclear Nrf2 accumulation. Additional study showed that arsenic causes increased cellular H(2)O(2) production and that H(2)O(2) itself has the ability to increase Nrf2 expression at both the transcription and protein levels in HaCaT cells. Taken together, these data clearly show that arsenic increases Nrf2 expression and activity at multiple levels and that H(2)O(2) is one of the mediators of this process.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenites / pharmacology*
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • DNA Primers / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Keratinocytes / cytology
  • Keratinocytes / drug effects*
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism
  • Leucine Zippers
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone) / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sodium Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Superoxides / metabolism
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism*


  • Arsenites
  • Carrier Proteins
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Sodium Compounds
  • Trans-Activators
  • Superoxides
  • sodium arsenite
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • NAD(P)H Dehydrogenase (Quinone)
  • NQO1 protein, human