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Stress-Free Evolution: The Nrf-Coordinated Oxidative Stress Response in Early Diverging Metazoans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)799-810
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019

King's Authors


Environmental stress from ultraviolet radiation, elevated temperatures or metal toxicity can lead to reactive oxygen species in cells, leading to oxidative DNA damage, premature aging, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. The transcription factor nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) activates many cytoprotective proteins within the nucleus to maintain homeostasis during oxidative stress. In vertebrates, Nrf2 levels are regulated by the Kelch-family protein Keap1 (Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1) in the absence of stress according to a canonical redox control pathway. Little, however, is known about the redox control pathway used in early diverging metazoans. Our study examines the presence of known oxidative stress regulatory elements within non-bilaterian metazoans including free living and parasitic cnidarians, ctenophores, placozoans, and sponges. Cnidarians, with their pivotal position as the sister phylum to bilaterians, play an important role in understanding the evolutionary history of response to oxidative stress. Through comparative genomic and transcriptomic analysis our results show that Nrf homologs evolved early in metazoans, whereas Keap1 appeared later in the last common ancestor of cnidarians and bilaterians. However, key Nrf-Keap1 interacting domains are not conserved within the cnidarian lineage, suggesting this important pathway evolved with the radiation of bilaterians. Several known downstream Nrf targets are present in cnidarians suggesting that cnidarian Nrf plays an important role in oxidative stress response even in the absence of Keap1. Comparative analyses of key oxidative stress sensing and response proteins in early diverging metazoans thus provide important insights into the molecular basis of how these lineages interact with their environment and suggest a shared evolutionary history of regulatory pathways. Exploration of these pathways may prove important for the study of cancer therapeutics and broader research in oxidative stress, senescence, and the functional responses of early diverging metazoans to environmental change.

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