2014 Volume 39 Issue 2 Pages 353-361
Pau d’arco is a plant-derived traditional medicine that acts by poorly understood molecular mechanisms. Here, we studied the effect of pau d’arco on the cytoprotective transcription factor Nrf2. An aqueous extract of pau d’arco stimulated Nrf2-dependent gene expression and led to nuclear localization of Nrf2 in vitro. Chromatographic separation and mass spectrometry of the extract identified benzene trioles or benzene tetraoles within the active fractions. The extract stimulated the mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular-signal-regulated kinase kinase (MEK)/extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2) pathway. The pharmacological inhibition of MEK, but not of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase, glycogen synthase kinase-3 or phosphoinositide 3-kinase was required for the activation of Nrf2-dependent gene expression by pau d’arco, but not for the nuclear translocation of Nrf2. In vivo pau d’arco increased the expression of Nrf2-target genes in the intestine. The results suggest that the activation of Nrf2 could mediate beneficial effects of pau d’arco, in particular in the intestine.