Activation of NRF2 by APE1/REF1 is redox-dependent in Barrett's related esophageal adenocarcinoma cells

Kannappan Sriramajayam, Dunfa Peng, Heng Lu, Shoumin Zhou, Nadeem Bhat, Oliver G. McDonald, Jianwen Que, Alexander Zaika, Wael El-Rifai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a major risk factor for the development of metaplastic Barrett's esophagus (BE) and its progression to esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC). Uncontrolled accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to acidic bile salts (ABS) in reflux conditions can be lethal to cells. In this study, we investigated the role of APE1/REF1 in regulating nuclear erythroid factor-like 2 (NRF2), the master antioxidant transcription factor, in response to reflux conditions. Results: We found that APE1 protein was critical for protecting against cellular ROS levels, oxidative DNA damage, double strand DNA breaks, and cell death in response to conditions that mimic reflux. Analysis of cell lines and de-identified tissues from patients with EAC demonstrated overexpression of both APE1 and NRF2 in EAC cells, as compared to non-neoplastic esophageal cells. Using reflux conditions, we detected concordant and prolonged increases of APE1 and NRF2 protein levels for several hours, following transient short exposure to ABS (20 min). NRF2 transcription activity, as measured by ARE luciferase reporter, and expression of its target genes (HO-1 and TRXND1) were similarly increased in response to ABS. Using genetic knockdown of APE1, we found that APE1 was required for the increase in NRF2 protein stability, nuclear localization, and transcription activation in EAC. Using knockdown of APE1 with reconstitution of wild-type and a redox-deficient mutant (C65A) of APE1, as well as pharmacologic APE1 redox inhibitor (E3330), we demonstrated that APE1 regulated NRF2 in a redox-dependent manner. Mechanistically, we found that APE1 is required for phosphorylation and inactivation of GSK-3β, an important player in the NRF2 degradation pathway. Conclusion: APE1 redox function was required for ABS-induced activation of NRF2 by regulating phosphorylation and inactivation of GSK-3β. The APE1-NRF2 network played a critical role in protecting esophageal cells against ROS and promoting cell survival under oxidative reflux conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101970
JournalRedox Biology
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • APE1
  • Acidic bile salt
  • GERD
  • GSK-3β
  • NRF2
  • Oxidative stress
  • ROS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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