Slingshot homolog-1-mediated Nrf2 sequestration tips the balance from neuroprotection to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease

Oxidative damage in the brain is one of the earliest drivers of pathology in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias, both preceding and exacerbating clinical symptoms. In response to oxidative stress, nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is normally activated to protect the brain from oxidative damage. However, Nrf2-mediated defense against oxidative stress declines in AD, rendering the brain increasingly vulnerable to oxidative damage. Although this phenomenon has long been recognized, its mechanistic basis has been a mystery. Here, we demonstrate through in vitro and in vivo models, as well as human AD brain tissue, that Slingshot homolog-1 (SSH1) drives this effect by acting as a counterweight to neuroprotective Nrf2 in response to oxidative stress and disease. Specifically, oxidative stress-activated SSH1 suppresses nuclear Nrf2 signaling by sequestering Nrf2 complexes on actin filaments and augmenting Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1)-Nrf2 interaction, independently of SSH1 phosphatase activity. We also show that Ssh1 elimination in AD models increases Nrf2 activation, which mitigates tau and amyloid-β accumulation and protects against oxidative injury, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration. Furthermore, loss of Ssh1 preserves normal synaptic function and transcriptomic patterns in tauP301S mice. Importantly, we also show that human AD brains exhibit highly elevated interactions of Nrf2 with both SSH1 and Keap1. Thus, we demonstrate here a unique mode of Nrf2 blockade that occurs through SSH1, which drives oxidative damage and ensuing pathogenesis in AD. Strategies to inhibit SSH1-mediated Nrf2 suppression while preserving normal SSH1 catalytic function may provide new neuroprotective therapies for AD and related dementias.