The effect of Nrf2 pathway activation on human pancreatic islet cells

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 25;10(6):e0131012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131012. eCollection 2015.


Background: Pancreatic islets are known to contain low level of antioxidants that renders them vulnerable to oxidative stress. Nrf2 is the master regulator of numerous genes, encoding antioxidant, detoxifying, and cytoprotective molecules. Activation of Nrf2 pathway induces up-regulation of numerous genes encoding antioxidant and phase II detoxifying enzymes and related proteins. However, little is known regarding the role of this pathway in human islet cells. The aim was to investigate the effect of Nrf2 activator (dh404, CDDO-9,11-dihydro-trifluoroethyl amide) on human islet cells.

Methods: Human islets were obtained from cadaveric donors. After dh404 treatment, Nrf2 translocation, mRNA expression, and protein abundance of its key target gene products were examined. The proportion of dh404-treated or non-treated viable islet beta cells was analyzed using flowcytemetry. The cytoprotective effects against oxidative stress and production of inflammatory mediators, and in vivo islet function after transplantation were determined.

Results: Nrf2 nuclear translocation was confirmed by con-focal microscope within 2 hours after treatment, which was associated with a dose-dependent increase in mRNA expression of anti-oxidants, including NQO1, HO-1, and GCLC. Enhanced HO-1 expression in dh404 treated islets was confirmed by Western Blot assay. Islet function after transplantation (2000 IEQ/mouse) to diabetic nude mice was not affected with or without dh404 treatment. After induction of oxidative stress with hydrogen peroxide (200 μM) the proportion of dh404-treated viable islet cells was significantly higher in the dh404-treated than untreated islets (74% vs.57%; P<0.05). Dh404 significantly decreased production of cytokines/chemokines including IL-1β, IL-6, IFN-γ and MCP-1.

Conclusion: Treatment of human pancreatic islets with the potent synthetic Nrf2 activator, dh404, significantly increased expression of the key anti-oxidants enzymes, decreased inflammatory mediators in islets and conferred protection against oxidative stress in beta cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / drug effects
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Chemokines / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism*
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism*
  • Oleanolic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Oleanolic Acid / pharmacology
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • dh404 compound
  • Oleanolic Acid