Trace elements, like Cu, Zn, Fe, or Se, are important for the proper functioning of antioxidant enzymes. However, in excessive amounts, they can also act as pro-oxidants. Accordingly, trace elements influence redox-modulated signaling pathways, such as the Nrf2 pathway. Vice versa, Nrf2 target genes belong to the group of transport and metal binding proteins. In order to investigate whether Nrf2 directly regulates the systemic trace element status, we used mice to study the effect of a constitutive, whole-body Nrf2 knockout on the systemic status of Cu, Zn, Fe, and Se. As the loss of selenoproteins under Se-deprived conditions has been described to further enhance Nrf2 activity, we additionally analyzed the combination of Nrf2 knockout with feeding diets that provide either suboptimal, adequate, or supplemented amounts of Se. Experiments revealed that the Nrf2 knockout partially affected the trace element concentrations of Cu, Zn, Fe, or Se in the intestine, liver, and/or plasma. However, aside from Fe, the other three trace elements were only marginally modulated in an Nrf2-dependent manner. Selenium deficiency mainly resulted in increased plasma Zn levels. One putative mediator could be the metal regulatory transcription factor 1, which was up-regulated with an increasing Se supply and downregulated in Se-supplemented Nrf2 knockout mice.
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