Butein and phloretin are chalcones that are members of the flavonoid family of polyphenols. Flavonoids have well-known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. In rat primary hepatocytes, we examined whether butein and phloretin affect tert-butylhydroperoxide (tBHP)-induced oxidative damage and the possible mechanism(s) involved. Treatment with butein and phloretin markedly attenuated tBHP-induced peroxide formation, and this amelioration was reversed by l-buthionine-S-sulfoximine [a glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL) inhibitor] and zinc protoporphyrin [a heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1) inhibitor]. Butein and phloretin induced both HO-1 and GCL protein and mRNA expression and increased intracellular glutathione (GSH) and total GSH content. Butein treatment activated the ERK1/2 signaling pathway and increased Nrf2 nuclear translocation, Nrf2 nuclear protein–DNA binding activity, and ARE–luciferase reporter activity. The roles of the ERK signaling pathway and Nrf2 in butein-induced HO-1 and GCL catalytic subunit (GCLC) expression were determined by using RNA interference directed against ERK2 and Nrf2. Both siERK2 and siNrf2 abolished butein-induced HO-1 and GCLC protein expression. These results suggest the involvement of ERK2 and Nrf2 in the induction of HO-1 and GCLC by butein. In an animal study, phloretin was shown to increase GSH content and HO-1 expression in rat liver and decrease carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatotoxicity. In conclusion, we demonstrate that butein and phloretin up-regulate HO-1 and GCL expression through the ERK2/Nrf2 pathway and protect hepatocytes against oxidative stress.
FREE RADICAL BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE; 51(11):2073-81.