Measuring the Interaction of Transcription Factor Nrf2 with Its Negative Regulator Keap1 in Single Live Cells by an Improved FRET/FLIM Analysis

Dina Dikovskaya (Lead / Corresponding author), Paul Appleton, Claudia Bento-Pereira, Albena Dinkova-Kostova (Lead / Corresponding author)

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8 Citations (Scopus)
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Transcription factor NF-E2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) and its principal negative regulator, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), comprise a molecular effector and sensor system that robustly responds to perturbations of the cellular redox homeostasis by orchestrating a comprehensive cytoprotective program. Under homeostatic conditions, Nrf2 is a short-lived protein, which is targeted for ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation. Upon encounter of electrophiles, oxidants, or pro-inflammatory stimuli, the cysteine sensors in Keap1 are chemically modified, rendering Keap1 unable to target Nrf2 for degradation, and consequently leading to accumulation of the transcription factor and enhanced transcription of cytoprotective genes. A detailed understanding of the protein-protein interactions between Nrf2 and Keap1 has been achieved by use of various in vitro systems, but few assays are available to assess these interactions in the context of the living cell. We previously developed an imaging-based FLIM/FRET methodology to visualize and measure the interaction between Nrf2 and Keap1 in single cells. Here, our goal was to improve this methodology in order to increase throughput and precision, and decrease cell-to-cell variability. To eliminate the possibility of orientation bias, we incorporated a flexible linker between Keap1 and the FRET acceptor fluorescent protein tag. To ensure the correct image capture of Nrf2 fused to the FRET donor fluorescent protein tag, we matched the maturation time of the fluorescent tag to the half-life of the endogenous Nrf2, by using sfGFP as the FRET donor. Using a global binning approach increased the assay throughput, whereas including the measured instrument response function in the analysis improved precision. The application of this methodology revealed a strong covariation of the results with the expression level of the acceptor. Taking the acceptor level into account circumvented cell-to-cell variability and enhanced sensitivity of the measurements of the Keap1-Nrf2 interaction in live cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)500-512
Number of pages13
JournalChemical Research in Toxicology
Issue number3
Early online date22 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2019


  • Redox reactions
  • Peptides and proteins
  • Fluorescence
  • Radioactive decay

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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