Donna Zhang

Donna Zhang, PhD, and her research projects are focused on: 1) mechanistic studies of the Nrf2/Keap1 signaling pathway that regulate an antioxidant response, 2) the protective role of Nrf2 in arsenic-induced toxicity and carcinogenicity, 3) high-throughput screening of  chemopreventive compounds targeting Nrf2, and 4) regulation of gene expression by the ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation pathway.  Each of these projects attempts to increase our understanding of how the Nrf2-mediatated antioxidant response is activated, and how to use this knowledge to identify/develop Nrf2-targeting compounds for disease intervention, thus improving human health.

Kpna6 (Importin {Alpha}7) Mediated Nuclear Import Of Keap1 Represses The Nrf2 Dependent Antioxidant Response. Source: Molecular And Cellular Biology
March 7th, 2011 PMID: 21383067 Donna Zhang
The transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a master regulator of cellular redox homeostasis. As an adaptive response to oxidative stress, Nrf2 activates the transcription of a battery of genes encoding antioxidants, detoxification enzymes, and xenobiotic transporters by binding the cis-antioxidant response element in the promoter regions of genes. The magnitude and duration of inducible Nrf2 signaling is delicately controlled at multiple levels by Keap1, which targets Nrf2 for redox-sensitive ubiquitin-mediated degradation in the cytoplasm and exports Nrf2 from the nucleus. However, it is not clear how Keap1 gains access to the nucleus. In this study, we show that Keap1 is constantly shuttling between the nucleus and the cytoplasm under physiological conditions. The nuclear import of Keap1 requires its C-terminal Kelch domain and is independent of Nrf1 and Nrf2. We have determined that importin α7, also known as karyopherin α6 (KPNA6), directly interacts with the Kelch domain of Keap1. Overexpression of KPNA6 facilitates Keap1 nuclear import and attenuates Nrf2 signaling, whereas knockdown of KPNA6 slows down Keap1 nuclear import and enhances the Nrf2-mediated adaptive response induced by oxidative stress. Furthermore, KPNA6 accelerates the clearance of Nrf2 protein from the nucleus during the postinduction phase, therefore promoting restoration of the Nrf2 protein to basal levels. These findings demonstrate that KPNA6-mediated Keap1 nuclear import plays an essential role in modulating the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response and maintaining cellular redox homeostasis.<br><br>
Brusatol Enhances The Efficacy Of Chemotherapy By Inhibiting The Nrf2 Mediated Defense Mechanism. Source: Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America
January 4th, 2011 PMID: 21205897 Donna Zhang
The major obstacle in cancer treatment is the resistance of cancer cells to therapies. Nrf2 is a transcription factor that regulates a cellular defense response and is ubiquitously expressed at low basal levels in normal tissues due to Keap1-dependent ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation. Recently, Nrf2 has emerged as an important contributor to chemoresistance. High constitutive expression of Nrf2 was found in many types of cancers, creating an environment conducive for cancer cell survival. Here, we report the identification of brusatol as a unique inhibitor of the Nrf2 pathway that sensitizes a broad spectrum of cancer cells and A549 xenografts to cisplatin and other chemotherapeutic drugs. Mechanistically, brusatol selectively reduces the protein level of Nrf2 through enhanced ubiquitination and degradation of Nrf2. Consequently, expression of Nrf2-downstream genes is reduced and the Nrf2-dependent protective response is suppressed. In A549 xenografts, brusatol and cisplatin cotreatment induced apoptosis, reduced cell proliferation, and inhibited tumor growth more substantially when compared with cisplatin treatment alone. Additionally, A549-K xenografts, in which Nrf2 is expressed at very low levels due to ectopic expression of Keap1, do not respond to brusatol treatment, demonstrating that brusatol-mediated sensitization to cisplatin is Nrf2 dependent. Moreover, a decrease in drug detoxification and impairment in drug removal may be the primary mechanisms by which brusatol enhances the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs. Taken together, these results clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of using brusatol to combat chemoresistance and suggest that brusatol can be developed into an adjuvant chemotherapeutic drug.<br><br>
Statistical Metamodeling For Revealing Synergistic Antimicrobial Interactions. Source: Plo S One
November 11th, 2010 PMID: 21124958 Donna Zhang
Many bacterial pathogens are becoming drug resistant faster than we can develop new antimicrobials. To address this threat in public health, a metamodel antimicrobial cocktail optimization (MACO) scheme is demonstrated for rapid screening of potent antibiotic cocktails using uropathogenic clinical isolates as model systems. With the MACO scheme, only 18 parallel trials were required to determine a potent antimicrobial cocktail out of hundreds of possible combinations. In particular, trimethoprim and gentamicin were identified to work synergistically for inhibiting the bacterial growth. Sensitivity analysis indicated gentamicin functions as a synergist for trimethoprim, and reduces its minimum inhibitory concentration for 40-fold. Validation study also confirmed that the trimethoprim-gentamicin synergistic cocktail effectively inhibited the growths of multiple strains of uropathogenic clinical isolates. With its effectiveness and simplicity, the MACO scheme possesses the potential to serve as a generic platform for identifying synergistic antimicrobial cocktails toward management of bacterial infection in the future.<br><br>
Regulation Of The Nrf2 Keap1 Antioxidant Response By The Ubiquitin Proteasome System: An Insight Into Cullin Ring Ubiquitin Ligases. Source: Antioxidants & Redox Signaling
August 14th, 2010 PMID: 20486766 Donna Zhang
Nrf2 is a transcription factor that has emerged as the cell's main defense mechanism against many harmful environmental toxicants and carcinogens. Nrf2 is negatively regulated by Keap1, a substrate adaptor protein for the Cullin3 (Cul3)-containing E3-ligase complex, which targets Nrf2 for ubiquitination and degradation by the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS). Recent evidence suggests that constitutive activation of Nrf2, due to mutations in Keap1 or Nrf2, is prominent in many cancer types and contributes to chemoresistance. Regulation of Nrf2 by the Cul3-Keap1-E3 ligase provides strong evidence that tight regulation of Cullin-ring ligases (CRLs) is imperative to maintain cellular homeostasis. There are seven known Cullin proteins that form various CRL complexes. They are regulated by neddylation/deneddylation, ubiquitination/deubiquitination, CAND1-assisted complex assembly/disassembly, and subunit dimerization. In this review, we will discuss the regulation of each CRL using the Cul3-Keap1-E3 ligase complex as the primary focus. The substrates of CRLs are involved in many signaling pathways. Therefore, deregulation of CRLs affects several cellular processes, including cell cycle arrest, DNA repair, cell proliferation, senescence, and death, which may lead to many human diseases, including cancer. This makes CRLs a promising target for novel cancer drug therapies.<br><br>
High Levels Of Nrf2 Determine Chemoresistance In Type Ii Endometrial Cancer. Source: Cancer Research
June 8th, 2010 PMID: 20530669 Donna Zhang
Type II endometrial cancer, which mainly presents as serous and clear cell types, has proved to be the most malignant and recurrent carcinoma among various female genital malignancies. The transcription factor Nrf2 was first described as having chemopreventive activity. Activation of the Nrf2-mediated cellular defense response protects cells against the toxic and carcinogenic effects of environmental insults by upregulating an array of genes that detoxify reactive oxygen species and restore cellular redox homeostasis. However, the cancer-promoting role of Nrf2 has recently been revealed. Nrf2 is constitutively upregulated in several types of human cancer tissues and cancer cell lines. Furthermore, inhibition of Nrf2 expression sensitizes cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs. In this study, the constitutive level of Nrf2 was compared in different types of human endometrial tumors. It was found that Nrf2 was highly expressed in endometrial serous carcinoma (ESC), whereas complex hyperplasia and endometrial endometrioid carcinoma (EEC) had no or marginal expression of Nrf2. Likewise, the ESC-derived SPEC-2 cell line had a higher level of Nrf2 expression and was more resistant to the toxic effects of cisplatin and paclitaxel than the Ishikawa cell line, which was generated from EEC. Silencing of Nrf2 rendered SPEC-2 cells more susceptible to chemotherapeutic drugs, whereas it had a limited effect on Ishikawa cells. Inhibition of Nrf2 expression by overexpressing Keap1 sensitized SPEC-2 cells or SPEC-2-derived xenografts to chemotherapeutic treatments using both cell culture and severe combined immunodeficient mouse models. Collectively, we provide a molecular basis for the use of Nrf2 inhibitors to increase the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs and to combat chemoresistance, the biggest obstacle in chemotherapy.<br><br>
The Cinnamon Derived Dietary Factor Cinnamic Aldehyde Activates The Nrf2 Dependent Antioxidant Response In Human Epithelial Colon Cells. Source: Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)
May 7th, 2010 PMID: 20657484 Donna Zhang
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a major cause of tumor-related morbidity and mortality worldwide. Recent research suggests that pharmacological intervention using dietary factors that activate the redox sensitive Nrf2/Keap1-ARE signaling pathway may represent a promising strategy for chemoprevention of human cancer including CRC. In our search for dietary Nrf2 activators with potential chemopreventive activity targeting CRC, we have focused our studies on trans-cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldeyde, CA), the key flavor compound in cinnamon essential oil. Here we demonstrate that CA and an ethanolic extract (CE) prepared from Cinnamomum cassia bark, standardized for CA content by GC-MS analysis, display equipotent activity as inducers of Nrf2 transcriptional activity. In human colon cancer cells (HCT116, HT29) and non-immortalized primary fetal colon cells (FHC), CA- and CE-treatment upregulated cellular protein levels of Nrf2 and established Nrf2 targets involved in the antioxidant response including heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1) and gamma-glutamyl-cysteine synthetase (gamma-GCS, catalytic subunit). CA- and CE-pretreatment strongly upregulated cellular glutathione levels and protected HCT116 cells against hydrogen peroxide-induced genotoxicity and arsenic-induced oxidative insult. Taken together our data demonstrate that the cinnamon-derived food factor CA is a potent activator of the Nrf2-orchestrated antioxidant response in cultured human epithelial colon cells. CA may therefore represent an underappreciated chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis.<br><br>
A Noncanonical Mechanism Of Nrf2 Activation By Autophagy Deficiency: Direct Interaction Between Keap1 And P62. Source: Molecular And Cellular Biology
April 26th, 2010 PMID: 20421418 Donna Zhang
In response to stress, cells can utilize several cellular processes, such as autophagy, which is a bulk-lysosomal degradation pathway, to mitigate damages and increase the chances of cell survival. Deregulation of autophagy causes upregulation of p62 and the formation of p62-containing aggregates, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The Nrf2-Keap1 pathway functions as a critical regulator of the cell's defense mechanism against oxidative stress by controlling the expression of many cellular protective proteins. Under basal conditions, Nrf2 is ubiquitinated by the Keap1-Cul3-E3 ubiquitin ligase complex and targeted to the 26S proteasome for degradation. Upon induction, the activity of the E3 ubiquitin ligase is inhibited through the modification of cysteine residues in Keap1, resulting in the stabilization and activation of Nrf2. In this current study, we identified the direct interaction between p62 and Keap1 and the residues required for the interaction have been mapped to 349-DPSTGE-354 in p62 and three arginines in the Kelch domain of Keap1. Accumulation of endogenous p62 or ectopic expression of p62 sequesters Keap1 into aggregates, resulting in the inhibition of Keap1-mediated Nrf2 ubiquitination and its subsequent degradation by the proteasome. In contrast, overexpression of mutated p62, which loses its ability to interact with Keap1, had no effect on Nrf2 stability, demonstrating that p62-mediated Nrf2 upregulation is Keap1 dependent. These findings demonstrate that autophagy deficiency activates the Nrf2 pathway in a noncanonical cysteine-independent mechanism.<br><br>
Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing Using High Surface To Volume Ratio Microchannels. Source: Analytical Chemistry
January 29th, 2010 PMID: 20055494 Donna Zhang
This study reports the use of microfluidics, which intrinsically has a large surface-to-volume ratio, toward rapid antimicrobial susceptibility testing at the point of care. By observing the growth of uropathogenic Escherichia coli in gas permeable polymeric microchannels with different dimensions, we demonstrate that the large surface-to-volume ratio of microfluidic systems facilitates rapid growth of bacteria. For microchannels with 250 microm or less in depth, the effective oxygenation can sustain the growth of E. coli to over 10(9) cfu/mL without external agitation or oxygenation, which eliminates the requirement of bulky instrumentation and facilitates rapid bacterial growth for antimicrobial susceptibility testing at the point of care. The applicability of microfluidic rapid antimicrobial susceptibility testing is demonstrated in culture media and in urine with clinical bacterial isolates that have different antimicrobial resistance profiles. The antimicrobial resistance pattern can be determined as rapidly as 2 h compared to days in standard clinical procedures facilitating diagnostics at the point of care.<br><br>
The Protective Role Of Nrf2 In Streptozotocin Induced Diabetic Nephropathy. Source: Diabetes
January 26th, 2010 PMID: 20103708 Donna Zhang
OBJECTIVE:<br>Diabetic nephropathy is one of the major causes of renal failure, which is accompanied by the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Nrf2 is the primary transcription factor that controls the antioxidant response essential for maintaining cellular redox homeostasis. Here, we report our findings demonstrating a protective role of Nrf2 against diabetic nephropathy.<br><br>RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS:<br>We explore the protective role of Nrf2 against diabetic nephropathy using human kidney biopsy tissues from diabetic nephropathy patients, a streptozotocin-induced diabetic nephropathy model in Nrf2(-/-) mice, and cultured human mesangial cells.<br><br>RESULTS:<br>The glomeruli of human diabetic nephropathy patients were under oxidative stress and had elevated Nrf2 levels. In the animal study, Nrf2 was demonstrated to be crucial in ameliorating streptozotocin-induced renal damage. This is evident by Nrf2(-/-) mice having higher ROS production and suffering from greater oxidative DNA damage and renal injury compared with Nrf2(+/+) mice. Mechanistic studies in both in vivo and in vitro systems showed that the Nrf2-mediated protection against diabetic nephropathy is, at least, partially through inhibition of transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) and reduction of extracellular matrix production. In human renal mesangial cells, high glucose induced ROS production and activated expression of Nrf2 and its downstream genes. Furthermore, activation or overexpression of Nrf2 inhibited the promoter activity of TGF-beta1 in a dose-dependent manner, whereas knockdown of Nrf2 by siRNA enhanced TGF-beta1 transcription and fibronectin production.<br><br>CONCLUSIONS:<br>This work clearly indicates a protective role of Nrf2 in diabetic nephropathy, suggesting that dietary or therapeutic activation of Nrf2 could be used as a strategy to prevent or slow down the progression of diabetic nephropathy.<br><br>
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