Nrf2-mediated activation of Phase II detoxification genes as a novel neuroprotective strategy for stroke

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada. A number of factors contribute to nerve cell death during a stroke. One major cause is the accumulation of free radicals (oxygen molecules that take electrons from healthy cells in the process known as oxidation), which causes cellular damage. Compared to other brain cells, nerve cells are particularly susceptible to damage by free radicals. Damage to nerve tissues worsens over the hours or days following a stroke due to an imbalance between free radicals and the antioxidants that normally protect cells. Andy Shih is researching ways to increase antioxidant levels to maintain balance and prevent cellular damage during stroke. Andy is specifically examining the ability of the Nrf2 protein to launch the cell’s antioxidant defenses, remove free radicals and repair damage. This research could confirm if Nrf2 can promote neuronal survival after stroke, hopefully improving functional recovery. Interestingly, a number of molecules that can activate Nrf2 are found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli. Diet-based therapies that favour Nrf2 activation could be effective and practical therapeutic approaches.