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Dietary Compounds Could Help Protect Kidney Function

Donna Zhang, Ph.D.
University of Arizona
NIEHS Grant R01ES015010


NIEHS-funded researchers have shown that compounds found in vegetables and cinnamon helped reduce kidney damage, and preserve kidney function in a mice model of diabetes. Medicines used to protect kidney function in people with diabetes often cause toxicity, so better therapies are needed.


The researchers experimented with sulforaphane, which is found in vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, as well as cinnamic aldehyde, a flavor component of cinnamon. These compounds activate a transcription factor called NFE-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), which regulates expression of various genes to neutralize free radicals and accelerate toxin removal.


They induced diabetes in Nrf2 deficient (-/-) mice, as well as those that expressed Nrf2 (+/+), and then administered sulforaphane or cinnamic aldehyde two weeks later. In the mice expressing Nrf2, both compounds improved kidney performance, minimized kidney damage, and significantly lessened diabetes-associated symptoms, such as high blood sugar, excessive thirst, and weight loss. Since only the mice expressing Nrf2 showed beneficial effects, these results indicate that the compounds activate the Nrf2 pathway.


The researchers conclude that the study lays the foundation for clinical evaluation and future development of new Nrf2 activators that could prevent the onset and progression of kidney problems that are associated with diabetes.

Citation: Citation: Zheng H, Whitman SA, Wu W, Wondrak GT, Wong PK, Fang D, Zhang DD. 2011. Therapeutic potential of Nrf2 activators in streptozotocin-induced diabetic nephropathy. Diabetes 60(11):3055-3066.

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