Trainee Pengfei Lui Looks at New Therapeutic Avenue for Treating Fibrotic Diseases

May 21, 2021


Post-Doctoral Associate Pengfei Liu recently published “The NRF2-LOC344887 signaling axis suppresses pulmonary fibrosis,” which details research to open a new therapeutic avenue for treating human pulmonary fibrosis and other fibrotic diseases.

Dr. Liu is a Trainee with the University of Arizona Superfund Research Center (UA SRC) and mentored by UA SRC Associate Director Dr. Donna Zhang. He is studying the significance of Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, or NRF2, in disease treatment.

NRF2 is a master transcription factor that confers cellular protection against oxidative, proteotoxic and metabolic stress. Pharmacological activation of NRF2 has proved to be a valuable antifibrotic approach, however the detailed mechanisms of how NRF2 mediates antifibrotic function remain unclear.

In their study, Dr. Lui and fellow researchers found that the antifibrotic function of sulforaphane (SFN), an NRF2 activator, was largely dependent on LOC344887, a long noncoding RNA. RNA-seq analysis revealed that LOC344887 controls genes and signaling pathways associated with fibrogenesis.

The study’s findings demonstrate that NRF2-mediated LOC344887 upregulation contributes to the antifibrotic potential of SFN by repressing the expression of CDH2 and other fibrotic genes, providing novel insight into how NRF2 controls the regulatory networks of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). IPF is a progressive and irreversible disease characterized by an increase in differentiation of fibroblasts to myofibroblasts and excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix in lung tissue.

This study provides a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of NRF2 activators against pulmonary fibrosis, presenting a novel therapeutic axis for prevention and intervention of fibrosis-related diseases.

Dr. Lui often thinks about what he will do next and the significance of his current work for the future of this field. He said, “I never think I will change the world as Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, but I hope my work can contribute to the inheritance of knowledge in medical field.”


Liu P, Luo G, Dodson M, Schmidlin CJ, Wei Y, Kerimoglu B, Ooi A, Chapman E, Garcia JG, Zhang DD. The NRF2-LOC344887 signaling axis suppresses pulmonary fibrosis. Redox Biol. 2021 Jan;38:101766. doi: 10.1016/j.redox.2020.101766. Epub 2020 Oct 20. PMID: 33126057; PMCID: PMC7573654. DOI: 10.1016/j.redox.2020.101766.

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