Methylglyoxal induces endoplasmic reticulum stress and DNA demethylation in the Keap1 promoter of human lens epithelial cells and age-related cataracts

Periyasamy Palsamy, Keshore R. Bidasee, Masahiko Ayaki, Robert C. Augusteyn, Jefferson Y. Chan, Toshimichi Shinohara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Age-related cataracts are a leading cause of blindness. Previously, we have demonstrated the association of the unfolded protein response with various cataractogenic stressors. However, DNA methylation alterations leading to suppression of lenticular antioxidant protection remains unclear. Here, we report the methylglyoxal-mediated sequential events responsible for Keap1 promoter DNA demethylation in human lens epithelial cells, because Keap1 is a negative regulatory protein that regulates the Nrf2 antioxidant protein. Methylglyoxal induces endoplasmic reticulum stress and activates the unfolded protein response leading to overproduction of reactive oxygen species before human lens epithelial cell death. Methylglyoxal also suppresses Nrf2 and DNA methyltransferases but activates the DNA demethylation pathway enzyme TET1. Bisulfite genomic DNA sequencing confirms the methylglyoxal-mediated Keap1 promoter DNA demethylation leading to overexpression of Keap1 mRNA and protein. Similarly, bisulfite genomic DNA sequencing shows that human clear lenses (n = 15) slowly lose 5-methylcytosine in the Keap1 promoter throughout life, at a rate of 1% per year. By contrast, diabetic cataractous lenses (n = 21) lose an average of 90% of the 5-methylcytosine regardless of age. Overexpressed Keap1 protein is responsible for decreasing Nrf2 by proteasomal degradation, thereby suppressing Nrf2-dependent stress protection. This study demonstrates for the first time the associations of unfolded protein response activation, Nrf2-dependent antioxidant system failure, and loss of Keap1 promoter methylation because of altered active and passive DNA demethylation pathway enzymes in human lens epithelial cells by methylglyoxal. As an outcome, the cellular redox balance is altered toward lens oxidation and cataract formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-148
Number of pages15
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Cataracts
  • DNA methylation
  • ER stress
  • Free radicals
  • Keap1 promoter demethylation
  • Methylglyoxal
  • Nrf2-dependent antioxidant protection
  • Unfolded protein response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)

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