AMPK leads to phosphorylation of the transcription factor Nrf2, tuning transactivation of selected target genes

Redox Biol. 2020 Jan;29:101393. doi: 10.1016/j.redox.2019.101393. Epub 2019 Nov 27.


The transcription factor Nrf2 (nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2) and the kinase AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) participate in the cellular adaptive response to redox or energy stress. Despite accumulating evidence for positive cooperativity between both proteins, information about direct post-translational modification of Nrf2 by AMPK in living cells is scarce. Here, MS-based analysis of immunoprecipitated Nrf2 revealed serine 374, 408 and 433 in human Nrf2 to be hyperphosphorylated as a function of activated AMPK. A direct phosphate-transfer by AMPK to those sites was indicated by in vitro kinase assays with recombinant proteins as well as interaction of AMPK and Nrf2 in cells, evident by co-immunoprecipitation. Mutation of serine 374, 408 and 433 to alanine did not markedly affect half-life, nuclear accumulation or induction of reporter gene expression upon Nrf2 activation with sulforaphane. However, some selected endogenous Nrf2 target genes responded with decreased induction when the identified phosphosites were mutated, whereas others remained unaffected. Notably, the genes susceptible to the mutation of the phosphorylation sites in Nrf2 consistently showed reduced induction in AMPKα1 -/-cells. Overall, our data reveal AMPK-triggered phosphorylation of Nrf2 at three serine residues, apparently determining the extent of transactivation of selected target genes.

Keywords: AMPK; NFE2L2; Nrf2; Phosphorylation; Proteomics; Transcription factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases* / genetics
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases* / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2* / genetics
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2* / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases