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Nrf2 participates in regulating maternal hepatic adaptations to pregnancy
Yuhong Zou, Min Hu, Qi Bao, Jefferson Y. Chan, Guoli Dai


Pregnancy induces widespread adaptive responses in maternal organ systems including the liver. The maternal liver exhibits significant growth by increasing the number and size of hepatocytes, by largely unknown mechanisms. Nrf2 mediates cellular defense against oxidative stress and inflammation and also regulates liver regeneration. To determine whether Nrf2 is involved in the regulation of maternal hepatic adaptations to pregnancy, we assessed the proliferation and size of maternal hepatocytes and the associated molecular events in wild-type and Nrf2-null mice at various stages of gestation. We found that wild-type maternal hepatocytes underwent proliferation and size reduction during the first half, and size increase without overt replication during the second half, of pregnancy. Although pregnancy decreased Nrf2 activity in the maternal liver, Nrf2 deficiency caused a delay in maternal hepatocyte proliferation, concomitant with dysregulation of the activation of Cyclin D1, E1, and, more significantly, A2. Remarkably, as a result of Nrf2 absence, the maternal hepatocytes were largely prevented from reducing their sizes during the first half of pregnancy, which was associated with an increase in mTOR activation. During the second half of pregnancy, maternal hepatocytes of both genotypes showed continuous volume increase accompanied by persistent activation of mTOR. However, the lack of Nrf2 resulted in dysregulation of the activation of the mTOR upstream regulator AKT1 and the mTOR target p70SK6 and thus disruption of the AKT1/mTOR/p70S6K pathway, which is known to control cell size. This suggests an mTOR-dependent and AKT1- and p70S6K-independent compensatory mechanism when Nrf2 is deficient. In summary, our study demonstrates that Nrf2 is required for normal maternal hepatic adjustments to pregnancy by ensuring proper regulation of the number and size of maternal hepatocytes.


  • Author contributions

    Y.Z., J.C. and G.D. conceived and designed the experiments; Y.Z., M.H., and Q.B. performed the experiments; Y.Z. and G.D. analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript.

  • Funding

    This work was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [grant number 7RO1DK07596 to G.D.]. Deposited in PMC for release after 12 months.

  • Accepted January 8, 2013.
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