Redox regulation of transcriptional activators

Free Radic Biol Med. 1996;21(3):335-48. doi: 10.1016/0891-5849(96)00109-8.


Transcription factors/activators are a group of proteins that bind to specific consensus sequences (cis elements) in the promoter regions of downstream target/effector genes and transactivate or repress effector gene expression. The up- or downregulation of effector genes will ultimately lead to many biological changes such as proliferation, growth suppression, differentiation, or senescence. Transcription factors are subject to transcriptional and posttranslational regulation. This review will focus on the redox (reduction/oxidation) regulation of transcription factors/activators with emphasis on p53, AP-1, and NF-kappa B. The redox regulation of transcriptional activators occurs through highly conserved cysteine residues in the DNA binding domains of these proteins. In vitro studies have shown that reducing environments increase, while oxidizing conditions inhibit sequence-specific DNA binding of these transcriptional activators. When intact cells have been used for study, a more complex regulation has been observed. Reduction/oxidation can either up- or downregulate DNA binding and/or transactivation activities in transcriptional activator-dependent as well as cell type-dependent manners. In general, reductants decrease p53 and NF-kappa B activities but dramatically activate AP-1 activity. Oxidants, on the other hand, greatly activate NF-kappa B activity. Furthermore, redox-induced biochemical alterations sometimes lead to change in the biological functions of these proteins. Therefore, differential regulation of these transcriptional activators, which in turn, regulate many target/effector genes, may provide an additional mechanism by which small antioxidant molecules play protective roles in anticancer and antiaging processes. Better understanding of the mechanism of redox regulation, particularly in vivo, will have an important impact on drug discovery for chemoprevention and therapy of human disease such as cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Humans
  • NF-kappa B / chemistry
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction*
  • Transcription Factor AP-1 / chemistry
  • Transcription Factor AP-1 / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors* / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors* / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / chemistry
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • NF-kappa B
  • Transcription Factor AP-1
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • DNA