Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 85, Issue 4, pp 241–272

The cytoprotective role of the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway

Review Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00204-011-0674-5

Cite this article as:
Baird, L. & Dinkova-Kostova, A.T. Arch Toxicol (2011) 85: 241. doi:10.1007/s00204-011-0674-5


An elaborate network of highly inducible proteins protects aerobic cells against the cumulative damaging effects of reactive oxygen intermediates and toxic electrophiles, which are the major causes of neoplastic and chronic degenerative diseases. These cytoprotective proteins share common transcriptional regulation, through the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway, which can be activated by various exogenous and endogenous small molecules (inducers). Inducers chemically react with critical cysteine residues of the sensor protein Keap1, leading to stabilisation and nuclear translocation of transcription factor Nrf2, and ultimately to coordinate enhanced expression of genes coding for cytoprotective proteins. In addition, inducers inhibit pro-inflammatory responses, and there is a linear correlation spanning more than six orders of magnitude of concentrations between inducer and anti-inflammatory activity. Genetic deletion of transcription factor Nrf2 renders cells and animals much more sensitive to the damaging effects of electrophiles, oxidants and inflammatory agents in comparison with their wild-type counterparts. Conversely, activation of the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway allows survival and adaptation under various conditions of stress and has protective effects in many animal models. Cross-talks with other signalling pathways broadens the role of the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway in determining the fate of the cell, impacting fundamental biological processes such as proliferation, apoptosis, angiogenesis and metastasis.


Keap1 Nrf2 Cytoprotective enzymes Phase 2 inducer 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biomedical Research InstituteUniversity of DundeeDundeeScotland, UK
  2. 2.The Department of Pharmacology and Molecular SciencesJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Biomedical Research Institute, Level 5Ninewells Hospital and Medical SchoolDundeeUK

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