Cullin 3 RING E3 ligase inactivation causes NRF2-dependent NADH reductive stress, hepatic lipodystrophy, and systemic insulin resistance

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2024 Apr 23;121(17):e2320934121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2320934121. Epub 2024 Apr 17.


Cullin RING E3 ligases (CRL) have emerged as key regulators of disease-modifying pathways and therapeutic targets. Cullin3 (Cul3)-containing CRL (CRL3) has been implicated in regulating hepatic insulin and oxidative stress signaling. However, CRL3 function in liver pathophysiology is poorly defined. Here, we report that hepatocyte Cul3 knockout results in rapid resolution of steatosis in obese mice. However, the remarkable resistance of hepatocyte Cul3 knockout mice to developing steatosis does not lead to overall metabolic improvement but causes systemic metabolic disturbances. Liver transcriptomics analysis identifies that CRL3 inactivation causes persistent activation of the nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2) antioxidant defense pathway, which also reprograms the lipid transcriptional network to prevent TG storage. Furthermore, global metabolomics reveals that NRF2 activation induces numerous NAD+-consuming aldehyde dehydrogenases to increase the cellular NADH/NAD+ ratio, a redox imbalance termed NADH reductive stress that inhibits the glycolysis-citrate-lipogenesis axis in Cul3 knockout livers. As a result, this NRF2-induced cellular lipid storage defect promotes hepatic ceramide accumulation, elevates circulating fatty acids, and worsens systemic insulin resistance in a vicious cycle. Hepatic lipid accumulation is restored, and liver injury and hyperglycemia are attenuated when NRF2 activation and NADH reductive stress are abolished in hepatocyte Cul3/Nrf2 double-knockout mice. The resistance to hepatic steatosis, hyperglycemia, and NADH reductive stress are observed in hepatocyte Keap1 knockout mice with NRF2 activation. In summary, our study defines a critical role of CRL3 in hepatic metabolic regulation and demonstrates that the CRL3 downstream NRF2 overactivation causes hepatic metabolic maladaptation to obesity and insulin resistance.

Keywords: cullin; fatty liver; insulin resistance; neddylation; reductive stress.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cullin Proteins / metabolism
  • Fatty Liver*
  • Hyperglycemia*
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Lipids
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • NAD / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism


  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • Kelch-Like ECH-Associated Protein 1
  • NAD
  • Cullin Proteins
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Lipids