The molecular chaperone sigma 1 receptor mediates rescue of retinal cone photoreceptor cells via modulation of NRF2

J. Wang, J. Zhao, X. Cui, B. A. Mysona, S. Navneet, A. Saul, M. Ahuja, N. Lambert, I. G. Gazaryan, B. Thomas, K. E. Bollinger, S. B. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Sigma 1 receptor (Sig1R), a putative molecular chaperone, has emerged as a novel therapeutic target for retinal degenerative disease. Earlier studies showed that activation of Sig1R via the high-affinity ligand (+)-pentazocine ((+)-PTZ) induced profound rescue of cone photoreceptor cells in the rd10 mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa; however the mechanism of rescue is unknown. Improved cone function in (+)-PTZ-treated mice was accompanied by reduced oxidative stress and normalization of levels of NRF2, a transcription factor that activates antioxidant response elements (AREs) of hundreds of cytoprotective genes. Here, we tested the hypothesis that modulation of NRF2 is central to Sig1R-mediated cone rescue. Activation of Sig1R in 661W cone cells using (+)-PTZ induced dose-dependent increases in NRF2-ARE binding activity and NRF2 gene/protein expression, whereas silencing Sig1R significantly decreased NRF2 protein levels and increased oxidative stress, although (+)-PTZ did not disrupt NRF2-KEAP1 binding. In vivo studies were conducted to investigate whether, in the absence of NRF2, activation of Sig1R rescues cones. (+)-PTZ was administered systemically for several weeks to rd10/nrf2 +/+ and rd10/nrf2 −/− mice. Through post-natal day 42, cone function was significant in rd10/nrf2 +/+ , but minimal in rd10/nrf2 −/− mice as indicated by electroretinographic recordings using natural noise stimuli, optical coherence tomography and retinal histological analyses. Immunodetection of cones was limited in (+)-PTZ-treated rd10/nrf2 −/− , though considerable in (+)-PTZ-treated rd10/nrf2 +/+ mice. The data suggest that Sig1R-mediated cone rescue requires NRF2 and provide evidence for a previously-unrecognized relationship between these proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)604-616
Number of pages13
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • NRF2-KEAP1
  • NRF2-Neh luciferase assay
  • Oxidative stress
  • Retina
  • Retinal neuroprotection
  • Retinitis pigmentosa
  • rd10 mouse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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