Genetic activation of Nrf2 protects against fasting-induced oxidative stress in livers of mice

PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59122. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059122. Epub 2013 Mar 18.


Acute fasting causes elevated oxidative stress. The current study investigated the effects of the nuclear factor erythoid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), the sensor of oxidative stress in cells, on energy homeostasis and liver pathophysiology during fasting. Feed was removed from mice possessing none (Nrf2-null), normal (wild-type, WT), enhanced (Keap1-knockdown, K1-KD), and maximum (hepatocyte-specific Keap1-knockout, K1-HKO) Nrf2 activity in liver for 24 h. Body weight, blood glucose, and blood lipid profiles were similar among mice with graded Nrf2 activity under either fed or fasted conditions. Fasting reduced liver size in mice expressing Nrf2, but not in Nrf2-null mice. Nrf2-null mice accumulated more non-esterified free fatty acids and triglycerides in liver after fasting than the other genotypes of mice. Fatty acids are mainly catabolized in mitochondria, and Nrf2-null mice had lower mitochondrial content in liver under control feeding conditions, which was further reduced by fasting. In contrast, mitochondrial contents in mice with enhanced Nrf2 activity were not affected by fasting. Oxidative stress, determined by staining of free radicals and quantification of malondialdehyde equivalents, was highest in Nrf2-null and lowest in K1-HKO mice after fasting. The exacerbated oxidative stress in livers of Nrf2-null mice is predicted to lead to damages to mitochondria, and therefore diminished oxidation and increased accumulation of lipids in livers of Nrf2-null mice. In summary, the Nrf2-regulated signaling pathway is critical in protecting mitochondria from oxidative stress during feed deprivation, which ensures efficient utilization of fatty acids in livers of mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Fasting*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Liver / anatomy & histology
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics*
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Organ Size
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Signal Transduction
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors
  • Transcriptional Activation*


  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Ppargc1a protein, mouse
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors
  • Glucose