Activation of the Keap1/nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) pathway and consequent induction of phase 2 antioxidant enzymes is known to afford neuroprotection. Here, we present a series of novel electrophilic compounds that protect neurons via this pathway. Natural products, such as carnosic acid (CA), are present in high amounts in the herbs rosemary and sage as ortho-dihydroquinones, and have attracted particular attention because they are converted by oxidative stress to their active form (ortho-quinone species) that stimulate the Keap1/Nrf2 transcriptional pathway. Once activated, this pathway leads to the production of a series of antioxidant phase 2 enzymes. Thus, such dihydroquinones function as redox-activated 'pro-electrophiles'. Here, we explored the concept that related para-dihydroquinones represent even more effective bioactive pro-electrophiles for the induction of phase 2 enzymes without producing toxic side effects. We synthesized several novel para-hydroquinone-type pro-electrophilic compounds (designated D1 and D2) to analyze their protective mechanism. DNA microarray, PCR, and western blot analyses showed that compound D1 induced expression of heat-shock proteins (HSPs), including HSP70, HSP27, and DnaJ, in addition to phase 2 enzymes such as hemeoxygenase-1 (HO-1), NADP(H) quinine-oxidoreductase1, and the Na(+)-independent cystine/glutamate exchanger (xCT). Treatment with D1 resulted in activation of Nrf2 and heat-shock transcription factor-1 (HSF-1) transcriptional elements, thus inducing phase 2 enzymes and HSPs, respectively. In this manner, D1 protected neuronal cells from both oxidative and endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-related stress. Additionally, D1 suppressed induction of 78 kDa glucose-regulated protein (GRP78), an ER chaperone protein, and inhibited hyperoxidation of peroxiredoxin 2 (PRX2), a molecule that is in its reduced state can protect from oxidative stress. These results suggest that D1 is a novel pro-electrophilic compound that activates both the Nrf2 and HSF-1 pathways, and may thus offer protection from oxidative and ER stress.
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Neurochemistry © 2011 International Society for Neurochemistry.