Erythropoiesis is a dynamic and multistep process, resulting in generation of red cells from hematopoietic stem cells. Aging is characterized by increased oxidation and reduced efficiency of cytoprotective mechanisms. Nrf2 is a key transcription factor that participates in acute response to oxidative stress and controls the expression of anti-oxidant and cytoprotective systems. We previously documented activation of Nrf2 during β-thalassemic erythropoiesis. In addition, a previous study reported a mild chronic hemolytic anemia as a result of increased erythrophagocytosis in mice genetically lacking Nrf2 (PNAS, 2004). Here, we show an age-dependent worsening of anemia in Nrf2-/- mice characterized by accelerated senescence of circulating erythrocytes in association with reticulocytopenia, suggesting a perturbation of erythroblast maturation. Indeed, we found ineffective erythropoiesis in 12 months-old Nrf2-/- mice with extramedullary erythropoiesis, increased ROS levels, reduction in the expression of Nrf2 related anti-oxidant proteins and apoptosis of erythroid precursor cells. In agreement, we observed an age dependent sensitivity of Nrf2-/- mice to stress erythropoiesis induced by either phenyhydrazine (PHZ) or doxorubicine. In 12-month-old mice we observed (i) activation of the unfoldeld protein response system (UPR) due to endosomal reticulum stress and (ii) impaired autophagy. The cytoprotective processes were unable to fully counteract oxidation re-directing cells towards apoptosis as supported by the increased activity of caspase-3. To understand the impact of oxidation in this model of accelerated senescence, we treated Nrf2-/- mice with astaxanthin, a powerful anti-oxidant but with low oral bioavailability, by administrating it in the form of PLGA loaded nanoparticles (ATS-NP). Treatment of Nrf2-/- mice with ATS-NP ameliorated the age-dependent anemia and decreased ineffective erythropoiesis through (i) inactivation of UPR system; (ii) improvement of autophagy and (iii) reduction in caspase-3 activity. In future studies, we plan to evaluate the impact of ATS-NP administration in other models of pathologic erythropoiesis. In summary, we propose that Nrf2, a key transcriptional factor plays a key protective role in regulating aged related oxidation and ensures normal erythroid maturation and growth.
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