Role of NRF2 in immune modulator expression in developing lung

Ritu Mishra, Afshan Fathima Nawas, Carole R. Mendelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


After birth, the alveolar epithelium is exposed to environmental pathogens and high O2 tensions. The alveolar type II cells may protect this epithelium through surfactant production. Surfactant protein, SP-A, an immune modulator, is developmentally upregulated in fetal lung with surfactant phospholipid synthesis. Herein, we observed that the redox-regulated transcription factor, NRF2, and co-regulated C/EBPβ and PPARγ, were markedly induced during cAMP-mediated differentiation of cultured human fetal lung (HFL) epithelial cells. This occurred with enhanced expression of immune modulators, SP-A, TDO2, AhR, and NQO1. Like SP-A, cAMP induction of NRF2 was prevented when cells were exposed to hypoxia. NRF2 knockdown inhibited induction of C/EBPβ, PPARγ, and immune modulators. Binding of endogenous NRF2 to promoters of SP-A and other immune modulator genes increased during HFL cell differentiation. In mouse fetal lung (MFL), a developmental increase in Nrf2, SP-A, Tdo2, Ahr, and Nqo1 and decrease in Keap1 occurred from 14.5 to 18.5 dpc. Developmental induction of Nrf2 in MFL was associated with increased nuclear localization of NF-κB p65, a decline in p38 MAPK phosphorylation, increase in the MAPK phosphatase, DUSP1, induction of the histone acetylase, CBP, and decline in the histone deacetylase, HDAC4. Thus, together with surfactant production, type II cells protect the alveolar epithelium through increased expression of NRF2 and immune modulators to prevent inflammation and oxidative stress. Our findings further suggest that lung cancer cells have usurped this developmental pathway to promote immune tolerance and enhance survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere21758
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • NRF2
  • SP-A
  • development
  • fetal lung
  • immune modulators
  • oxygen tension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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