Our body responds to environmental stress by changing the expression levels of a series of cytoprotective enzymes/proteins through multilayered regulatory mechanisms, including the KEAP1-NRF2 system. While NRF2 upregulates the expression of many cytoprotective genes, there are fundamental limitations in short-read RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq), resulting in confusion regarding interpreting the effectiveness of cytoprotective gene induction at the transcript level. To precisely delineate isoform usage in the stress response, we conducted independent full-length transcriptome profiling (isoform sequencing; Iso-Seq) analyses of lymphoblastoid cells from three volunteers under normal and electrophilic stress-induced conditions. We first determined the first exon usage in KEAP1 and NFE2L2 (encoding NRF2) and found the presence of transcript diversity. We then examined changes in isoform usage of NRF2 target genes under stress conditions and identified a few isoforms dominantly expressed in the majority of NRF2 target genes. The expression levels of isoforms determined by Iso-Seq analyses showed striking differences from those determined by short-read RNA-Seq; the latter could be misleading concerning the abundance of transcripts. These results support that transcript usage is tightly regulated to produce functional proteins under electrophilic stress. Our present study strongly argues that there are important benefits that can be achieved by long-read transcriptome sequencing.
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