Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is caused primarily by cigarette smoking, is a major health problem worldwide. The progressive decline in lung function that occurs in COPD is a result of persistent inflammation of the airways and destruction of the lung parenchyma. Despite the key role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of COPD, treatment with corticosteroids - normally highly effective antiinflammatory drugs - has little therapeutic benefit. This corticosteroid resistance is largely caused by inactivation of histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2), which is critical for the transrepressive activity of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) that mediates the antiinflammatory effect of corticosteroids. Here, we show that in alveolar macrophages from patients with COPD, S-nitrosylation of HDAC2 is increased and that this abolishes its GR-transrepression activity and promotes corticosteroid insensitivity. Cys-262 and Cys-274 of HDAC2 were found to be the targets of S-nitrosylation, and exogenous glutathione treatment of macrophages from individuals with COPD restored HDAC2 activity. Treatment with sulforaphane, a small-molecule activator of the transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2), was also able to denitrosylate HDAC2, restoring dexamethasone sensitivity in alveolar macrophages from patients with COPD. These effects of sulforaphane were glutathione dependent. We conclude that NRF2 is a novel drug target for reversing corticosteroid resistance in COPD and other corticosteroid-resistant inflammatory diseases.
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