Natural antioxidants represented by quercetin have been documented to be effective against atherosclerosis. However, the related mechanisms remain largely unclear. In this study, we identified a novel anti-atherosclerotic mechanism of quercetin inhibiting macrophage pyroptosis by activating NRF2 through binding to the Arg483 site of KEAP1 competitively. In ApoE-/- mice fed with high fat diet, quercetin administration attenuated atherosclerosis progression by reducing oxidative stress level and suppressing macrophage pyroptosis. At the cellular level, quercetin suppressed THP-1 macrophage pyroptosis induced by ox-LDL, demonstrated by inhibiting NLRP3 inflammasome activation and reducing ROS level, while these effects were reversed by the specific NRF2 inhibitor (ML385). Mechanistically, quercetin promoted NRF2 to dissociate from KEAP1, enhanced NRF2 nuclear translocation as well as transcription of downstream antioxidant protein. Molecular docking results suggested that quercetin could bind with KEAP1 at Arg415 and Arg483. In order to verify the binding sites, KEAP1 mutated at Arg415 and Arg483 to Ser (R415S and R483S) was transfected into THP-1 macrophages, and the anti-pyroptotic effect of quercetin was abrogated by Arg483 mutation, but not Arg415 mutation. Furthermore, after administration of adeno associated viral vector (AAV) with AAV-KEAP1-R483S, the anti-atherosclerotic effects of quercetin were almost abolished in ApoE-/- mice. These findings proved quercetins suppressed macrophage pyroptosis by targeting KEAP1/NRF2 interaction, and provided reliable data on the underlying mechanism of natural antioxidants to protect against atherosclerosis.
Keywords: Atherosclerosis; KEAP1/NRF2; Oxidative stress; Pyroptosis; Quercetin.
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