Nrf2 deficiency improves glucose tolerance in mice fed a high-fat diet

Yu-Kun Jennifer Zhang, Kai Connie Wu, Jie Liu, Curtis D Klaassen
Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 2012 November 1, 264 (3): 305-14
Nrf2, a master regulator of intracellular redox homeostasis, is indicated to participate in fatty acid metabolism in liver. However, its role in diet-induced obesity remains controversial. In the current study, genetically engineered Nrf2-null, wild-type (WT), and Nrf2-activated, Keap1-knockdown (K1-KD) mice were fed either a control or a high-fat Western diet (HFD) for 12 weeks. The results indicate that the absence or enhancement of Nrf2 activity did not prevent diet-induced obesity, had limited effects on lipid metabolism, but affected blood glucose homeostasis. Whereas the Nrf2-null mice were resistant to HFD-induced glucose intolerance, the Nrf2-activated K1-KD mice exhibited prolonged elevation of circulating glucose during a glucose tolerance test even on the control diet. Feeding a HFD did not activate the Nrf2 signaling pathway in mouse livers. Fibroblast growth factor 21 (Fgf21) is a liver-derived anti-diabetic hormone that exerts glucose- and lipid-lowering effects. Fgf21 mRNA and protein were both elevated in livers of Nrf2-null mice, and Fgf21 protein was lower in K1-KD mice than WT mice. The inverse correlation between Nrf2 activity and hepatic expression of Fgf21 might explain the improved glucose tolerance in Nrf2-null mice. Furthermore, a more oxidative cellular environment in Nrf2-null mice could affect insulin signaling in liver. For example, mRNA of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1, a gene repressed by insulin in hepatocytes, was markedly elevated in livers of Nrf2-null mice. In conclusion, genetic alteration of Nrf2 does not prevent diet-induced obesity in mice, but deficiency of Nrf2 improves glucose homeostasis, possibly through its effects on Fgf21 and/or insulin signaling.

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