Activation of the UPR Protects Against Cigarette Smoke-induced RPE Apoptosis through Up-Regulation of Nrf2 [Immunology]

January 7th, 2015 by Huang, C., Wang, J. J., Ma, J. H., Jin, C., Yu, Q., Zhang, S. X.

Recent studies have revealed a role of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-induced unfolded protein response (UPR) in the regulation of RPE cell activity and survival. Herein, we examined the mechanisms by which the UPR modulates apoptotic signaling in human RPE cells challenged with cigarette smoking extract (CSE). Our results show that CSE exposure induced a dose- and time-dependent increase in ER stress markers, enhanced reactive oxygen species (ROS), mitochondrial fragmentation and apoptosis of RPE cells. These changes were prevented by the anti-oxidant NAC or chemical chaperone TMAO, suggesting a close interaction between oxidative and ER stress in CSE-induced apoptosis. To decipher the role of the UPR, overexpression or downregulation of XBP1 and CHOP genes was manipulated by adenovirus or siRNA. Overexpressing XBP1 protected against CSE-induced apoptosis by reducing CHOP, p-p38, and caspase-3 activation. In contrast, XBP1 knockdown sensitized the cells to CSE-induced apoptosis, which is likely through a CHOP-independent pathway. Surprisingly, knockdown of CHOP reduced p-eIF2α and Nrf2 resulting in a marked increase in caspase-3 activation and apoptosis. Furthermore, Nrf2 inhibition increased ER stress and exacerbated cell apoptosis, whilst Nrf2 overexpression reduced CHOP and protected RPE cells. Our data suggest that although CHOP may function as a pro-apoptotic gene during ER stress, it is also required for Nrf2 upregulation and RPE cell survival. In addition, enhancing Nrf2 and XBP1 activity may help reduce oxidative and ER stress and protect RPE cells from cigarette smoke-induced damage.