Esculetin-induced protection of human hepatoma HepG2 cells against hydrogen peroxide is associated with the Nrf2-dependent induction of the NAD(P)H: Quinone oxidoreductase 1 gene

Sudhakar R Subramaniam, Elizabeth M Ellis

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Esculetin (6,7-dihydroxy coumarin), is a potent antioxidant that is present in several plant species. The aim of this study was to investigate the mechanism of protection of esculetin in human hepatoma HepG2 cells against reactive oxygen species (ROS) induced by hydrogen peroxide. Cell viability, cell integrity, intracellular glutathione levels, generation of reactive oxygen species and expression of antioxidant enzymes were used as markers to measure cellular oxidative stress and response to ROS. The protective effect of esculetin was compared to a well-characterized chemoprotective compound quercetin. Pre-treatment of HepG2 cells with sub-lethal (10-25 μM) esculetin for 8h prevented cell death and maintained cell integrity following exposure to 0.9 mM hydrogen peroxide. An increase in the generation of ROS following hydrogen peroxide treatment was significantly attenuated by 8h pre-treatment with esculetin. In addition, esculetin ameliorated the decrease in intracellular glutathione caused by hydrogen peroxide exposure. Moreover, treatment with 25 μM esculetin for 8h increased the expression of NAD(P)H: quinone oxidoreductase (NQO1) at both protein and mRNA levels significantly, by 12-fold and 15-fold, respectively. Esculetin treatment also increased nuclear accumulation of Nrf2 by 8-fold indicating that increased NQO1 expression is Nrf2-mediated. These results indicate that esculetin protects human hepatoma HepG2 cells from hydrogen peroxide induced oxidative injury and that this protection is provided through the induction of protective enzymes as part of an adaptive response mediated by Nrf2 nuclear accumulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-136
Number of pages7
JournalToxicology and Applied Pharmacology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2011


  • antioxidants
  • cell death
  • dose-response relationship, drug
  • gene expression regulation
  • glutathione
  • Hep G2 cells
  • humans
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • NAD(P)H dehydrogenase (Quinone)
  • NF-E2-related factor 2
  • oxidative stress
  • RNA, messenger
  • reactive oxygen species
  • umbelliferones

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