The Keap1-Nrf2 system is central for mammalian cytoprotection against various stresses and a drug target for disease prevention and treatment. One model for the molecular mechanisms leading to Nrf2 activation is the Hinge-Latch model, where the DLGex-binding motif of Nrf2 dissociates from Keap1 as a latch, while the ETGE motif remains attached to Keap1 as a hinge. To overcome the technical difficulties in examining the binding status of the two motifs during protein-protein interaction (PPI) simultaneously, we utilized NMR spectroscopy titration experiments. Our results revealed that latch dissociation is triggered by low-molecular-weight Keap1-Nrf2 PPI inhibitors and occurs during p62-mediated Nrf2 activation, but not by electrophilic Nrf2 inducers. This study demonstrates that Keap1 utilizes a unique Hinge-Latch mechanism for Nrf2 activation upon challenge by non-electrophilic PPI-inhibiting stimuli, and provides critical insight for the pharmacological development of next-generation Nrf2 activators targeting the Keap1-Nrf2 PPI.
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