Epigenetic modifications of triterpenoid ursolic acid in activating Nrf2 and blocking cellular transformation of mouse epidermal cells

Hyuck Kim, Christina N. Ramirez, Zheng Yuan Su, Ah Ng Tony Kong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Ursolic acid (UA), a well-known natural triterpenoid found in abundance in blueberries, cranberries and apple peels, has been reported to possess many beneficial health effects. These effects include anticancer activity in various cancers, such as skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world. Nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a master regulator of antioxidative stress response with anticarcinogenic activity against UV- and chemical-induced tumor formation in the skin. Recent studies show that epigenetic modifications of Nrf2 play an important role in cancer prevention. However, the epigenetic impact of UA on Nrf2 signaling remains poorly understood in skin cancer. In this study, we investigated the epigenetic effects of UA on mouse epidermal JB6 P+ cells. UA inhibited cellular transformation by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate at a concentration at which the cytotoxicity was no more than 25%. Under this condition, UA induced the expression of the Nrf2-mediated detoxifying/antioxidant enzymes heme oxygenase-1, NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 and UDP-glucuronosyltransferase 1A1. DNA methylation analysis revealed that UA demethylated the first 15 CpG sites of the Nrf2 promoter region, which correlated with the reexpression of Nrf2. Furthermore, UA reduced the expression of epigenetic modifying enzymes, including the DNA methyltransferases DNMT1 and DNMT3a and the histone deacetylases (HDACs) HDAC1, HDAC2, HDAC3 and HDAC8 (Class I) and HDAC6 and HDAC7 (Class II), and HDAC activity. Taken together, these results suggest that the epigenetic effects of the triterpenoid UA could potentially contribute to its beneficial effects, including the prevention of skin cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-62
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Nutritional Biochemistry
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Clinical Biochemistry


  • DNMT
  • HDAC
  • JB6 P+
  • Nrf2
  • Skin cancer
  • UA


Dive into the research topics of 'Epigenetic modifications of triterpenoid ursolic acid in activating Nrf2 and blocking cellular transformation of mouse epidermal cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this