Cell Biology and Toxicology

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 541–551 | Cite as

Tert-butylhydroquinone induces mitochondrial oxidative stress causing Nrf2 activation



Tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), the major metabolite of butylated hydroxyanisole, induces an antioxidant response through the redox-sensitive transcription factor, nuclear factor-E2-related factor-2 (Nrf2). However, the mechanism by which tBHQ induces Nrf2 activity is not entirely understood. Here, we show that tBHQ preferentially alters the redox status in the mitochondrial compartment in HeLa cells. HeLa cells treated with tBHQ showed a preferential oxidation of mitochondrial thioredoxin-2 (Trx2), while cellular glutathione and cytosolic thioredoxin-1 were not affected. Preferential mitochondrial oxidation by tBHQ was supported by detection of reactive oxygen species (ROS) specific to this compartment. To determine the role of Trx2 in regulating downstream effects of tBHQ, HeLa cells were transiently transfected with an empty, Trx2, or C93S (Cys93Ser) Trx2 dominant-negative mutant expression vector. Overexpression of Trx2 decreased basal mitochondrial ROS production, whereas expression of C93S Trx2 enhanced it. In addition, under untreated conditions, expression of C93S Trx2 led to an increase in the basal activities of Nrf2. With tBHQ treatments, Trx2 overexpression suppressed Nrf2 accumulation and activity, whereas expression of C93S Trx2 had no effect on the degree of inducibility or Nrf2 accumulation but did increase the overall activity of Nrf2. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis of Nrf2-regulated gene expression corroborate Trx2 control of tBHQ-mediated Nrf2 activation. These data show a compartment-specific effect where tBHQ-induced Nrf2 signaling is mediated by Trx2 and suggest that antioxidant status in various compartments would provide different levels of control of redox signaling.


Mitochondria Nrf2 Oxidative stress Tert-butylhyrdroquinone Thioredoxin 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Immunology, Cystic Fibrosis and Sleep, Department of Pediatrics, Emory School of MedicineEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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