Activating transcription factor-2 supports the antioxidant capacity and ability of human mesenchymal stem cells to prevent asthmatic airway inflammation

Exp Mol Med. 2023 Feb;55(2):413-425. doi: 10.1038/s12276-023-00943-z. Epub 2023 Feb 10.


Glutathione (GSH), an abundant nonprotein thiol antioxidant, participates in several biological processes and determines the functionality of stem cells. A detailed understanding of the molecular network mediating GSH dynamics is still lacking. Here, we show that activating transcription factor-2 (ATF2), a cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB), plays a crucial role in maintaining the level and activity of GSH in human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) by crosstalking with nuclear factor erythroid-2 like-2 (NRF2), a well-known master regulator of cellular redox homeostasis. Priming with ascorbic acid 2-glucoside (AA2G), a stable vitamin C derivative, increased the expression and activity of ATF2 in MSCs derived from human embryonic stem cells and umbilical cord. Subsequently, activated ATF2 crosstalked with the CREB1-NRF2 pathway to preserve the GSH dynamics of MSCs through the induction of genes involved in GSH synthesis (GCLC and GCLM) and redox cycling (GSR and PRDX1). Accordingly, shRNA-mediated silencing of ATF2 significantly impaired the self-renewal, migratory, proangiogenic, and anti-inflammatory capacities of MSCs, and these defects were rescued by supplementation of the cells with GSH. In addition, silencing ATF2 attenuated the ability of MSCs to alleviate airway inflammatory responses in an ovalbumin-induced mouse model of allergic asthma. Consistently, activation of ATF2 by overexpression or the AA2G-based priming procedure enhanced the core functions of MSCs, improving the in vivo therapeutic efficacy of MSCs for treating asthma. Collectively, our findings suggest that ATF2 is a novel modulator of GSH dynamics that determines the core functionality and therapeutic potency of MSCs used to treat allergic asthma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activating Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Asthma* / metabolism
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism


  • Activating Transcription Factors
  • Antioxidants
  • ascorbic acid 2-O-glucoside
  • Glutathione
  • Immunologic Factors
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • ATF2 protein, human