Loss of NRF2 leads to impaired mitochondrial function, decreased synaptic density and exacerbated age-related cognitive deficits

Jonathan A. Zweig, Maya Caruso, Mikah S. Brandes, Nora E. Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Activation of the antioxidant regulatory transcription factor NRF2 (Nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2) regulates cellular bioenergetics and improves neuronal health in aging. Yet how NRF2 participates in maintaining synaptic, mitochondrial and cognitive function has not been fully elucidated. This study investigates how loss of NRF2 affects neuronal metabolism, synaptic density and cognitive performance in aged mice. Dendritic arborization as well as synaptic and mitochondrial gene expression was evaluated in hippocampal neurons isolated from mice lacking NRF2 (NRF2KO) and from wild-type (WT) C57BL6 mice. Mitochondrial function of these neurons was evaluated using the Seahorse XF platform. Additionally learning, memory and executive function were assessed in 20 month old NRF2KO and age-matched WT mice using conditioned fear response (CFR) and odor discrimination reversal learning (ODRL) tests. Hippocampal bioenergetics was profiled using mitochondria isolated from these animals and tissue was harvested for assessment of mitochondrial and synaptic genes. NRF2KO neurons had reduced dendritic complexity and diminished synaptic gene expression. This was accompanied by impaired mitochondrial function and decreased mitochondrial gene expression. Similar mitochondrial deficits were observed in the brains of aged NRF2KO mice. These animals also had significantly impaired cognitive performance and reduced synaptic gene expression as well. These data point to a role for NRF2 in maintaining mitochondrial and cognitive function during aging and suggest that the transcription factor may be a viable target for cognitive enhancing interventions. Because mitochondrial dysfunction and cognitive impairment also occur together in many neurodegenerative conditions there may be broad therapeutic potential of NRF2 activating agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110767
JournalExperimental Gerontology
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Aging
  • Cognition
  • Mitochondrial function
  • NRF2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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