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Issue 6, 2020
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The role of natural products in revealing NRF2 function

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Covering: up to 2020

The transcription factor NRF2 is one of the body's major defense mechanisms, driving transcription of >300 antioxidant response element (ARE)-regulated genes that are involved in many critical cellular processes including redox regulation, proteostasis, xenobiotic detoxification, and primary metabolism. The transcription factor NRF2 and natural products have an intimately entwined history, as the discovery of NRF2 and much of its rich biology were revealed using natural products both intentionally and unintentionally. In addition, in the last decade a more sinister aspect of NRF2 biology has been revealed. NRF2 is normally present at very low cellular levels and only activated when needed, however, it has been recently revealed that chronic, high levels of NRF2 can lead to diseases such as diabetes and cancer, and may play a role in other diseases. Again, this “dark side” of NRF2 was revealed and studied largely using a natural product, the quassinoid, brusatol. In the present review, we provide an overview of NRF2 structure and function to orient the general reader, we will discuss the history of NRF2 and NRF2-activating compounds and the biology these have revealed, and we will delve into the dark side of NRF2 and contemporary issues related to the dark side biology and the role of natural products in dissecting this biology.

Graphical abstract: The role of natural products in revealing NRF2 function

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Article information

17 Oct 2019
First published
13 May 2020

Nat. Prod. Rep., 2020,37, 797-826
Article type
Review Article

The role of natural products in revealing NRF2 function

D. D. Zhang and E. Chapman, Nat. Prod. Rep., 2020, 37, 797
DOI: 10.1039/C9NP00061E

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