Control of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Sickle Cell Disease with the Nrf2 Activator Dimethyl Fumarate

John D. Belcher, Chunsheng Chen, Julia Nguyen, Ping Zhang, Fuad Abdulla, Phong Nguyen, Trevor Killeen, Pauline Xu, Gerry O'Sullivan, Karl A. Nath, Gregory M. Vercellotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Aims: Heme derived from hemolysis is pro-oxidative and proinflammatory and promotes vaso-occlusion in murine models of sickle cell disease (SCD), suggesting that enhanced detoxification of heme may be beneficial. Nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor-2 (Nrf2) transcription pathway is the principal cellular defense system responding to pro-oxidative and proinflammatory stress. Dimethyl fumarate (DMF), a drug approved for treatment of multiple sclerosis, provides neuroprotection by activating Nrf2-responsive genes. We hypothesized that induction of Nrf2 with DMF would be beneficial in murine SCD models. Results: DMF (30 mg/kg/day) or vehicle (0.08% methyl cellulose) was administered for 3-7 days to NY1DD and HbSS-Townes SCD mice. Vaso-occlusion, a hallmark of SCD, measured in sickle mice with dorsal skinfold chambers, was inhibited by DMF. The inhibitory effect of DMF was abrogated by the heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) inhibitor tin protoporphyrin. DMF increased nuclear Nrf2 and cellular mRNA of Nrf2-responsive genes in livers and kidneys. DMF increased heme defenses, including HO-1, haptoglobin, hemopexin, and ferritin heavy chain, although plasma hemoglobin and heme levels were unchanged. DMF decreased markers of inflammation, including nuclear factor-kappa B phospho-p65, adhesion molecules, and toll-like receptor 4. DMF administered for 24 weeks to HbSS-Townes mice decreased hepatic necrosis, inflammatory cytokines, and irregularly shaped erythrocytes and increased hemoglobin F, but did not alter hematocrits, reticulocyte counts, lactate dehydrogenase, plasma heme, or spleen weights, indicating that the beneficial effects of DMF were not attributable to decreased hemolysis. Innovation: These studies identify Nrf2 activation as a new therapeutic target for the treatment of SCD. Conclusion: DMF activates Nrf2, enhances antioxidant defenses, and inhibits inflammation and vaso-occlusion in SCD mice. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 26, 748-762.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)748-762
Number of pages15
JournalAntioxidants and Redox Signaling
Issue number14
StatePublished - May 10 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2017, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.


  • HO-1
  • Nrf2
  • haptoglobin
  • hemopexin
  • sickle cell disease


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