Oxidative stress plays an important role in cadmium-induced liver injury. Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a transcription factor that up-regulates cytoprotective genes in response to oxidative stress. To investigate the role of Nrf2 in cadmium-induced hepatotoxicity, Nrf2-null mice, wild-type mice, kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1-knockdown (Keap1-KD) mice with enhanced Nrf2, and Keap1-hepatocyte knockout (Keap1-HKO) mice with maximum Nrf2 activation were treated with cadmium chloride (3.5mg Cd/kg, i.p.). Blood and liver samples were collected 8h thereafter. Cadmium increased serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activities, and caused extensive hepatic hemorrhage and necrosis in the Nrf2-null mice. In contrast, Nrf2-enhanced mice had lower serum ALT and LDH activities and less morphological alternations in the livers than wild-type mice. H(2)DCFDA (2',7'-dichlorodihydrofluoresein diacetate) staining of primary hepatocytes isolated from the four genotypes of mice indicated that oxidative stress was higher in Nrf2-null cells, and lower in Nrf2-enhanced cells than in wild-type cells. To further investigate the mechanism of the protective effect of Nrf2, mRNA of metallothionein (MT) and other cytoprotective genes were determined. Cadmium markedly induced MT-1 and MT-2 in livers of all four genotypes of mice. In contrast, genes involved in glutathione synthesis and reducing reactive oxygen species, including glutamate-cysteine ligase (Gclc), glutathione peroxidase-2 (Gpx2), and sulfiredoxin-1 (Srxn-1) were only induced in Nrf2-enhanced mice, but not in Nrf2-null mice. In conclusion, the present study shows that Nrf2 activation prevents cadmium-induced oxidative stress and liver injury through induction of genes involved in antioxidant defense rather than genes that scavenge Cd.
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