The role of transcription factor Nrf2 in skin cells metabolism

Arch Dermatol Res. 2015 Jul;307(5):385-96. doi: 10.1007/s00403-015-1554-2. Epub 2015 Feb 24.


Skin, which is a protective layer of the body, is in constant contact with physical and chemical environmental factors. Exposure of the skin to highly adverse conditions often leads to oxidative stress. Moreover, it has been observed that skin cells are also exposed to reactive oxygen species generated during cell metabolism particularly in relation to the synthesis of melanin or the metabolism in immune system cells. However, skin cells have special features that protect them against oxidative modifications including transcription factor Nrf2, which is responsible for the transcription of the antioxidant protein genes such as antioxidant enzymes, small molecular antioxidant proteins or interleukins, and multidrug response protein. In the present study, the mechanisms of Nrf2 activation have been compared in the cells forming the various layers of the skin: keratinocytes, melanocytes, and fibroblasts. The primary mechanism of control of Nrf2 activity is its binding by cytoplasmic inhibitor Keap1, while cells have also other controlling mechanisms, such as phosphorylation of Nrf2 and modifications of its activators (e.g., Maf, IKKβ) or inhibitors (e.g., Bach1, caveolae, TGF-β). Moreover, there are a number of drugs (e.g., ketoconazole) used in the pharmacotherapy of skin diseases based on the activation of Nrf2, but they may also induce oxidative stress. Therefore, it is important to look for compounds that cause a selective activation of Nrf2 particularly natural substances such as curcumin, sulforaphane, or extracts from the broccoli leaves without side effects. These findings could be helpful in the searching for new drugs for people with vitiligo or even melanoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism*
  • Melanocytes / metabolism*
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / physiology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species


  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • Reactive Oxygen Species