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Journal of Physiology





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Key points

  • Nrf2 is a master regulator of endogenous cellular defences, governing the expression of more than 200 cytoprotective proteins, including a panel of antioxidant enzymes.
  • Nrf2 plays an important role in redox haemostasis of skeletal muscle in response to the increased generation of reactive oxygen species during contraction.
  • Employing skeletal muscle-specific transgenic mouse models with unbiased-omic approaches, we uncovered new target proteins, downstream pathways and molecular networks of Nrf2 in skeletal muscle following Nrf2 or Keap1 deletion.
  • Based on the findings, we proposed a two-way model to understand Nrf2 function: a tonic effect through a Keap1-independent mechanism under basal conditions and an induced effect through a Keap1-dependent mechanism in response to oxidative and other stresses.

Although Nrf2 has been recognized as a master regulator of cytoprotection, its functional significance remains to be completely defined. We hypothesized that proteomic/bioinformatic analyses from Nrf2-deficient or overexpressed skeletal muscle tissues will provide a broader spectrum of Nrf2 targets and downstream pathways than are currently known. To this end, we created two transgenic mouse models; the iMS-Nrf2flox/flox and iMS-Keap1flox/flox, employing which we demonstrated that selective deletion of skeletal muscle Nrf2 or Keap1 separately impaired or improved skeletal muscle function. Mass spectrometry revealed that Nrf2-KO changed expression of 114 proteins while Keap1-KO changed expression of 117 proteins with 10 proteins in common between the groups. Gene ontology analysis suggested that Nrf2 KO-changed proteins are involved in metabolism of oxidoreduction coenzymes, purine ribonucleoside triphosphate, ATP and propanoate, which are considered as the basal function of Nrf2, while Keap1 KO-changed proteins are involved in cellular detoxification, NADP metabolism, glutathione metabolism and the electron transport chain, which belong to the induced effect of Nrf2. Canonical pathway analysis suggested that Keap1-KO activated four pathways, whereas Nrf2-KO did not. Ingenuity pathway analysis further revealed that Nrf2-KO and Keap1-KO impacted different signal proteins and functions. Finally, we validated the proteomic and bioinformatics data by analysing glutathione metabolism and mitochondrial function. In conclusion, we found that Nrf2-targeted proteins are assigned to two groups: one mediates the tonic effects evoked by a low level of Nrf2 at basal condition; the other is responsible for the inducible effects evoked by a surge of Nrf2 that is dependent on a Keap1 mechanism.


"This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: [Functional, proteomic and bioinformatic analyses of Nrf2- and Keap1- null skeletal muscle. J Physiol, 598: 5427-5451. ], which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited."

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