The transcription factor NF-E2 p45-related factor (Nrf2) induces the expression of cytoprotective proteins that maintain and restore redox homeostasis. Nrf2 levels and activity are tightly regulated, and three subcellular populations of the transcription factor have been identified. During homeostasis, the majority of Nrf2 is degraded in the cytoplasm by ubiquitin (Ub)-mediated degradation. A second population is transcriptionally active in the nucleus, and a third population localizes to the outer mitochondrial membrane. Still unresolved are the mechanisms and factors that govern Nrf2 distribution between its subcellular locales. We show here that the Ub-conjugating enzyme UBE2E3 and its nuclear import receptor importin 11 (Imp-11) regulate Nrf2 distribution and activity. Knockdown of UBE2E3 reduces nuclear Nrf2, decreases Nrf2 target gene expression, and relocalizes the transcription factor to a perinuclear cluster of mitochondria. In a complementary manner, Imp-11 functions to restrict KEAP1, the major suppressor of Nrf2, from prematurely extracting the transcription factor off of a subset of target gene promoters. These findings identify a novel pathway of Nrf2 modulation during homeostasis and support a model in which UBE2E3 and Imp-11 promote Nrf2 transcriptional activity by restricting the transcription factor from partitioning to the mitochondria and limiting the repressive activity of nuclear KEAP1.
© 2015 Plafker and Plafker. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). Two months after publication it is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0).