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1.  Dysfunctional KEAP1–NRF2 Interaction in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e420.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that positively regulates the expression of genes encoding antioxidants, xenobiotic detoxification enzymes, and drug efflux pumps, and confers cytoprotection against oxidative stress and xenobiotics in normal cells. Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1) negatively regulates NRF2 activity by targeting it to proteasomal degradation. Increased expression of cellular antioxidants and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes has been implicated in resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Methods and Findings
Here we report a systematic analysis of the KEAP1 genomic locus in lung cancer patients and cell lines that revealed deletion, insertion, and missense mutations in functionally important domains of KEAP1 and a very high percentage of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2, suggesting that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 in lung cancer is a common event. Sequencing of KEAP1 in 12 cell lines and 54 non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) samples revealed somatic mutations in KEAP1 in a total of six cell lines and ten tumors at a frequency of 50% and 19%, respectively. All the mutations were within highly conserved amino acid residues located in the Kelch or intervening region domain of the KEAP1 protein, suggesting that these mutations would likely abolish KEAP1 repressor activity. Evaluation of loss of heterozygosity at 19p13.2 revealed allelic losses in 61% of the NSCLC cell lines and 41% of the tumor samples. Decreased KEAP1 activity in cancer cells induced greater nuclear accumulation of NRF2, causing enhanced transcriptional induction of antioxidants, xenobiotic metabolism enzymes, and drug efflux pumps.
This is the first study to our knowledge to demonstrate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC. Loss of KEAP1 function leading to constitutive activation of NRF2-mediated gene expression in cancer suggests that tumor cells manipulate the NRF2 pathway for their survival against chemotherapeutic agents.
Biallelic inactivation ofKEAP1, a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC, is associated with activation of the NRF2 pathway which leads to expression of genes that contribute to resistance against chemotherapeutic drugs.
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. More than 150,000 people in the US alone die every year from this disease, which can be split into two basic types—small cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Four out of five lung cancers are NSCLCs, but both types are mainly caused by smoking. Exposure to chemicals in smoke produces changes (or mutations) in the genetic material of the cells lining the lungs that cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. In more than half the people who develop NSCLC, the cancer has spread out of the lungs before it is diagnosed, and therefore can't be removed surgically. Stage IV NSCLC, as this is known, is usually treated with chemotherapy—toxic chemicals that kill the fast-growing cancer cells. However, only 2% of people with stage IV NSCLC are still alive two years after their diagnosis, mainly because their cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy. They do this by making proteins that destroy cancer drugs (detoxification enzymes) or that pump them out of cells (efflux pumps) and by making antioxidants, chemicals that protect cells against the oxidative damage caused by many chemotherapy agents.
Why Was This Study Done?
To improve the outlook for patients with lung cancer, researchers need to discover exactly how cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy drugs. Detoxification enzymes, efflux pumps, and antioxidants normally protect cells from environmental toxins and from oxidants produced by the chemical processes of life. Their production is regulated by nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (NRF2). The activity of this transcription factor (a protein that controls the expression of other proteins) is controlled by the protein Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1). KEAP1 holds NRF2 in the cytoplasm of the cell (the cytoplasm surrounds the cell's nucleus, where the genetic material is stored) when no oxidants are present and targets it for destruction. When oxidants are present, KEAP1 no longer interacts with NRF2, which moves into the nucleus and induces the expression of the proteins that protect the cell against oxidants and toxins. In this study, the researchers investigated whether changes in KEAP1 might underlie the drug resistance seen in lung cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers looked carefully at the gene encoding KEAP1 in tissue taken from lung tumors and in several lung cancer cell lines—tumor cells that have been grown in a laboratory. They found mutations in parts of KEAP1 known to be important for its function in half the cell lines and a fifth of the tumor samples. They also found that about half of the samples had lost part of one copy of the KEAP1 gene—cells usually have two copies of each gene. Five of the six tumors with KEAP1 mutations had also lost one copy of KEAP1—geneticists call this biallelic inactivation. This means that these tumors should have no functional KEAP1. When the researchers checked this by staining the tumors for NRF2, they found that the tumor cells had more NRF2 than normal cells and that it accumulated in the nucleus. In addition, the tumor cells made more detoxification enzymes, efflux proteins, and antioxidants than normal cells. Finally, the researchers showed that lung cancer cells with KEAP1 mutations were more resistant to chemotherapy drugs than normal lung cells were.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that biallelic inactivation of KEAP1 is a frequent genetic alteration in NSCLC and suggest that the loss of KEAP1 activity is one way that lung tumors can increase their NRF2 activity and develop resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. More lung cancer samples need to be examined to confirm this result, and similar studies need to be done in other cancers to see whether loss of KEAP1 activity is a common mechanism by which tumors become resistant to chemotherapy. If such studies confirm that high NRF2 activity (either through mutation or by some other route) is often associated with a poor tumor response to chemotherapy, then the development of NRF2 inhibitors might help to improve treatment outcomes in patients with chemotherapy-resistant tumors.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute information on lung cancer and on cancer treatment
MedlinePlus entries on small cell lung cancer and NSCLC Cancer Research UK information on lung cancer
Wikipedia entries on lung cancer and chemotherapy (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1584412  PMID: 17020408
2.  Nrf2 expression in endometrial serous carcinomas and its precancers 
Endometrial serous carcinoma (ESC) is the most aggressive subtype of endometrial cancer. Its aggressive behavior and poor clinical outcome may be partially attributed to lack of early diagnostic markers and unclear patho-genesis. The transcription factor Erythroid–E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a recently identified protein marker, which plays a role in carcinogenesis as well as responsible for poor prognosis of many human cancers. The aim of this study is to determine the Nrf2 expression in benign endometrium (n=28), endometrial cancers (n=122) as well as their precursor lesions (n=81) trying to see whether Nrf2 has any diagnostic usage and is potentially involved in endometrial carcinogenesis. The level of Nrf2 was evaluated by immunohistochemical (IHC) and verified by using Western blots. Among the malignant cases, Nrf2 was positive in 28 (68%) of 50 ESCs, which was significantly more than in 3 (6%) of 50 endometrioid carcinomas (p < 0.001) and 2 (13%) of 15 clear cell carcinomas (p = 0.001) and other histologic types of endometrial cancers. Among endometrial precursor lesions, both serous endometrial glandular dysplasia (EmGD, 40%) and serous endometrial intraepithelial carcinoma (EIC, 44%) showed a significantly higher Nrf2 expression than that in atypical endometrial hyperplasia or endometrial intraepithelial neoplasia (0%), clear cell EmGD (10%), and clear cell EIC (25%), respectively. We conclude that Nrf2 overexpression is closely associated with endometrial neoplasms with serous differentiation. Alteration of Nrf2 expression may represent one of the early molecular events in ESC carcinogenesis and overexpression of Nrf2 may used as a diagnostic marker in surgical pathology.
PMCID: PMC3016106  PMID: 21228930
Nrf2; endometrial cancer; precancer; endometrial serous carcinoma; endometrial glandular dysplasia
3.  Nrf2 enhances resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs, the dark side of Nrf2 
Carcinogenesis  2008;29(6):1235-1243.
Drug resistance during chemotherapy is the major obstacle to the successful treatment of many cancers. Here, we report that inhibition of NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) may be a promising strategy to combat chemoresistance. Nrf2 is a critical transcription factor regulating a cellular protective response that defends cells against toxic insults from a broad spectrum of chemicals. Under normal conditions, the low constitutive amount of Nrf2 protein is maintained by the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein1 (Keap1)-mediated ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation system. Upon activation, this Keap1-dependent Nrf2 degradation mechanism is quickly inactivated, resulting in accumulation and activation of the antioxidant response element (ARE)-dependent cytoprotective genes. Since its discovery, Nrf2 has been viewed as a ‘good’ transcription factor that protects us from many diseases. In this study, we demonstrate the dark side of Nrf2: stable overexpression of Nrf2 resulted in enhanced resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic agents including cisplatin, doxorubicin and etoposide. Inversely, downregulation of the Nrf2-dependent response by overexpression of Keap1 or transient transfection of Nrf2–small interfering RNA (siRNA) rendered cancer cells more susceptible to these drugs. Upregulation of Nrf2 by the small chemical tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) also enhanced the resistance of cancer cells, indicating the feasibility of using small chemical inhibitors of Nrf2 as adjuvants to chemotherapy to increase the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents. Furthermore, we provide evidence that the strategy of using Nrf2 inhibitors to increase efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents is not limited to certain cancer types or anticancer drugs and thus can be applied during the course of chemotherapy to treat many cancer types.
PMCID: PMC3312612  PMID: 18413364
4.  Targeted Deletion of Nrf2 Reduces Urethane-Induced Lung Tumor Development in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26590.
Nrf2 is a key transcription factor that regulates cellular redox and defense responses. However, permanent Nrf2 activation in human lung carcinomas promotes pulmonary malignancy and chemoresistance. We tested the hypothesis that Nrf2 has cell survival properties and lack of Nrf2 suppresses chemically-induced pulmonary neoplasia by treating Nrf2+/+ and Nrf2-/- mice with urethane. Airway inflammation and injury were assessed by bronchoalveolar lavage analyses and histopathology, and lung tumors were analyzed by gross and histologic analysis. We used transcriptomics to assess Nrf2-dependent changes in pulmonary gene transcripts at multiple stages of neoplasia. Lung hyperpermeability, cell death and apoptosis, and inflammatory cell infiltration were significantly higher in Nrf2-/- mice compared to Nrf2+/+ mice 9 and 11 wk after urethane. Significantly fewer lung adenomas were found in Nrf2-/- mice than in Nrf2+/+ mice at 12 and 22 wk. Nrf2 modulated expression of genes involved cell-cell signaling, glutathione metabolism and oxidative stress response, and immune responses during early stage neoplasia. In lung tumors, Nrf2-altered genes had roles in transcriptional regulation of cell cycle and proliferation, carcinogenesis, organismal injury and abnormalities, xenobiotic metabolism, and cell-cell signaling genes. Collectively, Nrf2 deficiency decreased susceptibility to urethane-induced lung tumorigenesis in mice. Cell survival properties of Nrf2 were supported, at least in part, by reduced early death of initiated cells and heightened advantage for tumor cell expansion in Nrf2+/+ mice relative to Nrf2-/- mice. Our results were consistent with the concept that Nrf2 over-activation is an adaptive response of cancer conferring resistance to anti-cancer drugs and promoting malignancy.
PMCID: PMC3198791  PMID: 22039513
5.  Multidrug Resistant Protein-Three Gene Regulation by the Transcription Factor Nrf2 in Human Bronchial Epithelial and Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma 
Free radical biology & medicine  2009;46(12):1650-1657.
Multidrug Resistant Proteins (MRP) are members of the ATP-binding cassette superfamily that facilitate detoxification by transporting toxic compounds, including chemotherapeutic drugs, out of cells. Chemotherapy, radiation, and other xenobiotic stresses have been shown to increase levels of select MRPs, although, the underlying mechanism remains largely unknown. Additionally, MRP3 is suspected of playing a role in the drug resistance of non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). Analysis of the MRP3 promoter revealed the presence of multiple putative electrophile responsive elements (EpRE), sequences that suggested possible regulation of this gene by Nrf2, the key transcription factor that binds to EpRE. The goal of this investigation was to determine whether MRP3 induction was dependent upon the transcription factor Nrf2. Keap1, a key regulator of Nrf2, sequesters Nrf2 in the cytoplasm, preventing entry into the nucleus. The electrophilic lipid peroxidation product, 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (HNE) has been shown to modify Keap1 allowing Nrf2 to enter the nucleus. We found that HNE up-regulated MRP3 mRNA and protein levels in cell lines with wild type Keap1 (human bronchial epithelial cell line HBE1 and the NSCLC cell line H358), but not in the Keap1 mutant NSCLC cell lines (A549 and H460). Cell lines with mutant Keap1 had constitutively higher MRP3 that was not increased by HNE treatment. In HBE1 cells, silencing of Nrf2 with siRNA inhibited induction of MRP3 and by HNE. Finally, we found that silencing Nrf2 also increased the toxicity of cisplatin in H358 cells. The combined results therefore support the hypothesis that MRP3 induction by HNE involves Nrf2 activation.
PMCID: PMC2692873  PMID: 19345732
electrophile response element; lung cancer; 4-hydroxynonenal; Keap1; H460 cell line; H358 cell line; A549 cell line; HBE1 cell line; Nrf2; multidrug resistant proteins
6.  Nrf2 is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer: implications for cell proliferation and therapy 
Molecular Cancer  2011;10:37.
Nrf2 is a key transcriptional regulator of a battery of genes that facilitate phase II/III drug metabolism and defence against oxidative stress. Nrf2 is largely regulated by Keap1, which directs Nrf2 for proteasomal degradation. The Nrf2/Keap1 system is dysregulated in lung, head and neck, and breast cancers and this affects cellular proliferation and response to therapy. Here, we have investigated the integrity of the Nrf2/Keap1 system in pancreatic cancer.
Keap1, Nrf2 and the Nrf2 target genes AKR1c1 and GCLC were detected in a panel of five pancreatic cancer cell lines. Mutation analysis of NRF2 exon 2 and KEAP1 exons 2-6 in these cell lines identified no mutations in NRF2 and only synonomous mutations in KEAP1. RNAi depletion of Nrf2 caused a decrease in the proliferation of Suit-2, MiaPaca-2 and FAMPAC cells and enhanced sensitivity to gemcitabine (Suit-2), 5-flurouracil (FAMPAC), cisplatin (Suit-2 and FAMPAC) and gamma radiation (Suit-2). The expression of Nrf2 and Keap1 was also analysed in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (n = 66 and 57, respectively) and matching normal benign epithelium (n = 21 cases). Whilst no significant correlation was seen between the expression levels of Keap1 and Nrf2 in the tumors, interestingly, Nrf2 staining was significantly greater in the cytoplasm of tumors compared to benign ducts (P < 0.001).
Expression of Nrf2 is up-regulated in pancreatic cancer cell lines and ductal adenocarcinomas. This may reflect a greater intrinsic capacity of these cells to respond to stress signals and resist chemotherapeutic interventions. Nrf2 also appears to support proliferation in certain pancreatic adenocarinomas. Therefore, strategies to pharmacologically manipulate the levels and/or activity of Nrf2 may have the potential to reduce pancreatic tumor growth, and increase sensitivity to therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3098205  PMID: 21489257
7.  Identification and quantification of the basal and inducible Nrf2-dependent proteomes in mouse liver: Biochemical, pharmacological and toxicological implications 
Journal of Proteomics  2014;108(100):171-187.
The transcription factor Nrf2 is a master regulator of cellular defence: Nrf2 null mice (Nrf2(−/−)) are highly susceptible to chemically induced toxicities. We report a comparative iTRAQ-based study in Nrf2(−/−) mice treated with a potent inducer, methyl-2-cyano-3,12-dioxooleana-1,9(11)dien-28-oate (CDDO-me; bardoxolone -methyl), to define both the Nrf2-dependent basal and inducible hepatoproteomes. One thousand five hundred twenty-one proteins were fully quantified (FDR < 1%). One hundred sixty-one were significantly different (P < 0.05) between WT and Nrf2(−/−) mice, confirming extensive constitutive regulation by Nrf2. Treatment with CDDO-me (3 mg/kg; i.p.) resulted in significantly altered expression of 43 proteins at 24 h in WT animals. Six proteins were regulated at both basal and inducible levels exhibiting the largest dynamic range of Nrf2 regulation: cytochrome P4502A5 (CYP2A5; 17.2-fold), glutathione-S-transferase-Mu 3 (GSTM3; 6.4-fold), glutathione-S-transferase Mu 1 (GSTM1; 5.9-fold), ectonucleoside-triphosphate diphosphohydrolase (ENTPD5; 4.6-fold), UDP-glucose-6-dehydrogenase (UDPGDH; 4.1-fold) and epoxide hydrolase (EPHX1; 3.0-fold). These proteins, or their products, thus provide a potential source of biomarkers for Nrf2 activity. ENTPD5 is of interest due to its emerging role in AKT signalling and, to our knowledge, this protein has not been previously shown to be Nrf2-dependent. Only two proteins altered by CDDO-me in WT animals were similarly affected in Nrf2(−/−) mice, demonstrating the high degree of selectivity of CDDO-me for the Nrf2:Keap1 signalling pathway.
Biological significance
The Nrf2:Keap1 signalling pathway is attracting considerable interest as a therapeutic target for different disease conditions. For example, CDDO-me (bardoxolone methyl) was investigated in clinical trials for the treatment of acute kidney disease, and dimethyl fumarate, recently approved for reducing relapse rate in multiple sclerosis, is a potent Nrf2 inducer. Such compounds have been suggested to act through multiple mechanisms; therefore, it is important to define the selectivity of Nrf2 inducers to assess the potential for off-target effects that may lead to adverse drug reactions, and to provide biomarkers with which to assess therapeutic efficacy. Whilst there is considerable information on the global action of such inducers at the mRNA level, this is the first study to catalogue the hepatic protein expression profile following acute exposure to CDDO-me in mice. At a dose shown to evoke maximal Nrf2 induction in the liver, CDDO-me appeared highly selective for known Nrf2-regulated proteins. Using the transgenic Nrf2(−/−) mouse model, it could be shown that 97% of proteins induced in wild type mice were associated with a functioning Nrf2 signalling pathway. This analysis allowed us to identify a panel of proteins that were regulated both basally and following Nrf2 induction. Identification of these proteins, which display a large magnitude of variation in their expression, provides a rich source of potential biomarkers for Nrf2 activity for use in experimental animals, and which may be translatable to man to define individual susceptibility to chemical stress, including that associated with drugs, and also to monitor the pharmacological response to Nrf2 inducers.
Graphical abstract
•Liver proteomes from WT, Nrf2-null and Nrf2-induced mice were compared by iTRAQ•Of 1521 proteins quantified, 161 were regulated basally and 43 following induction•Six proteins were both basally and inducibly regulated, with high dynamic ranges•In order of fold change, these proteins were CYP2A5, GSTM3, GSTM1, ENTPD5, G6PD, EPHX1•These proteins may yield translatable biomarkers for clinical development
PMCID: PMC4115266  PMID: 24859727
Nrf2; iTRAQ; ENTPD5; CYP2A5; Hepatoproteome; CDDO
8.  Expression of Nuclear Factor Erythroid 2 Protein in Malignant Cutaneous Tumors 
Archives of Plastic Surgery  2014;41(6):654-660.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) damages cell molecules, and modifies cell signaling. The nuclear factor E2-related factor (Nrf2) is a critical transcription regulator, which protects cells against oxidative damage. Nrf2 expression is increased in a large number of cancers. However, little information has been reported regarding the expression of Nrf2 in skin cancers. Hence, we explored the expression of Nrf2 protein in skin cancers.
The Nrf2 protein expression in 24 specimens, including 6 malignant melanomas (MM), 6 squamous cell carcinomas (SCC), 6 basal cell carcinomas (BCC), and 6 normal skin tissues, was evaluated by western blotting. Immunohistochemical staining was performed. The expression of Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), the key regulator of Nrf2, was also analyzed by western blotting.
Small interfering RNA transfection to the melanoma cell line G361 confirmed that an approximately 66 kDa band was the true Nrf2 band. The western blot revealed that the Nrf2 protein was definitely expressed in normal skin tissues, but the Nrf2 expression was decreased in MM, SCC, and BCC. Immunohistochemical examination showed that expression of Nrf2 was decreased in all skin cancer tissues compared to the normal skin tissues. Keap1 was not expressed in all malignant skin tumors and normal skin tissues by western blot.
ROS was increased in various types of cancers which proteins were highly expressed or underexpressed. This study demonstrated that the expression of Nrf2 protein was down-regulated in human malignant skin tumors. We suggest that decreased expression of Nrf2 is related to skin cancers.
PMCID: PMC4228206  PMID: 25396176
NF-E2-related factor 2; Reactive oxygen species; Skin neoplasms
9.  RNAi mediated silencing of Nrf2 gene expression in non-small cell lung cancer inhibits tumor growth and increases efficacy of chemotherapy 
Cancer research  2008;68(19):7975-7984.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor-2 (Nrf2) is a redox-sensitive transcription factor that regulates the expression of electrophile and xenobiotic detoxification enzymes and efflux proteins, which confer cytoprotection against oxidative stress and apoptosis in normal cells. Loss of function mutations in the Nrf2 inhibitor, Kelch-like ECH-associated protein (Keap1), results in constitutive activation of Nrf2 function in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In this study, we demonstrate that constitutive activation of Nrf2 in lung cancer cells promotes tumorigenicity and contributes to chemoresistance by upregulation of glutathione, thioredoxin and the drug efflux pathways involved in detoxification of electrophiles and broad spectrum of drugs. RNAi-mediated reduction of Nrf2 expression in lung cancer cells induces generation of reactive oxygen species, suppresses tumor growth and results in increased sensitivity to chemotherapeutic drug induced cell death in vitro and in vivo. Inhibiting Nrf2 expression using naked siRNA duplexes in combination with carboplatin significantly inhibits tumor growth in a subcutaneous model of lung cancer. Thus, targeting Nrf2 activity in lung cancers, particularly those with Keap1 mutations, could be a promising strategy to inhibit tumor growth and circumvent chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC3070411  PMID: 18829555
Nrf2; Keap1; lung cancer; drug resistance; ROS; RNAi
10.  Gain of Nrf2 Function in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer Cells Confers Radioresistance 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2010;13(11):1627-1637.
Nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2 (Nrf2), a redox-sensitive transcription factor, regulates the expression of antioxidant enzymes and several anti-apoptotic proteins, which confer cytoprotection against oxidative stress and apoptosis. Constitutive activation of Nrf2 in lung cancer cells promotes tumorigenicity and contributes to chemoresistance by upregulation of glutathione, thioredoxin, and the drug efflux pathways involved in detoxification of electrophiles and broad spectrum of drugs. In this study, we show that RNAi-mediated lowering of Nrf2 levels in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines (A549 and H460) led to a dramatic increase in endogenous reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels. Similarly, γ-irradiation-induced formation of protein carbonyls were significantly higher in Nrf2-depleted lung cancer cells, suggesting increased lethality of ionizing radiation in the absence of Nrf2. Radiation-induced protein oxidation in Nrf2shRNA cells correlated with reduced survival as measured by clonogenic assay. Radiation-induced cell death was abrogated by pretreatment with antioxidants such as N-acetyl-L-cysteine, glutathione, and vitamin-E, highlighting the importance of antioxidants in conferring protection against radiation injury. Using genetically-modified gain and loss of function models of Nrf2, in mouse embryonic fibroblasts, we establish that constitutive activation of Nrf2 protects against ionizing radiation toxicity and confers radioresistance. Thus, targeting Nrf2 activity in radioresistant tumors could be a promising strategy to circumvent radioresistance. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 13, 1627–1637.
PMCID: PMC3541552  PMID: 20446773
11.  Genetic or Pharmacologic Amplification of Nrf2 Signaling Inhibits Acute Inflammatory Liver Injury in Mice 
Oxidative stress-mediated destruction of normal parenchymal cells during hepatic inflammatory responses contributes to the pathogenesis of immune-mediated hepatitis and is implicated in the progression of acute inflammatory liver injury to chronic inflammatory liver disease. The transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) regulates the expression of a battery of antioxidative enzymes and Nrf2 signaling can be activated by small-molecule drugs that disrupt Keap1-mediated repression of Nrf2 signaling. Therefore, genetic and pharmacologic approaches were used to activate Nrf2 signaling to assess protection against inflammatory liver injury. Profound increases in ind of cell death were observed in both Nrf2 wild-type (Nrf2-WT) mice and Nrf2-disrupted (Nrf2-KO) mice 24-hr following intravenous injection of concanavalin A (12.5 mg/kg, ConA), a model for T cell-mediated acute inflammatory liver injury. However, hepatocyte-specific conditional Keap1 null (Alb-Cre:Keap1flox/−, cKeap1-KO) mice with constitutively enhanced expression of Nrf2-regulated antioxidative genes as well as Nrf2-WT mice but not Nrf2-KO mice pretreated with three daily doses of a triterpenoid that potently activates Nrf2 (30 µmole/kg, CDDO-Im) were highly resistant to ConA-mediated inflammatory liver injury. CDDO-Im pretreatment of both Nrf2-WT and Nrf2-KO mice resulted in equivalent suppression of serum pro-inflammatory soluble proteins suggesting that the hepatoprotection afforded by CDDO-Im pretreatment of Nrf2-WT mice but not Nrf2-KO mice was not due to suppression of systemic pro-inflammatory signaling, but instead was due to activation of Nrf2 signaling in the liver. Enhanced hepatic expression of Nrf2-regulated antioxidative genes inhibited inflammation-mediated oxidative stress, thereby preventing hepatocyte necrosis. Attenuation of hepatocyte death in cKeap1-KO mice and CDDO-Im pretreated Nrf2-WT mice resulted in decreased late-phase pro-inflammatory gene expression in the liver thereby diminishing the sustained influx of inflammatory cells initially stimulated by the ConA challenge. Taken together, these results clearly illustrate that targeted cytoprotection of hepatocytes through Nrf2 signaling during inflammation prevents the amplification of inflammatory responses in the liver.
PMCID: PMC2435415  PMID: 18417483
Liver inflammation; Nrf2; Keap1; antioxidative enzymes; cytoprotection; triterpenoid
12.  Dual Roles of Nrf2 in Cancer 
In response to oxidative stress, the transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) controls the fate of cells through transcriptional upregulation of antioxidant response element (ARE)-bearing genes, including those encoding endogenous antioxidants, phase II detoxifying enzymes, and transporters. Expression of the Nrf2-dependent proteins is critical for ameliorating or eliminating toxicants/carcinogens to maintain cellular redox homeostasis. As a result, activation of the Nrf2 pathway, by naturally-occurring compounds or synthetic chemicals at sub-toxic doses, confers protection against subsequent toxic/carcinogenic exposure. Thus, the use of dietary compounds or synthetic chemicals to boost the Nrf2-dependent adaptive response to counteract environmental insults has emerged to be a promising strategy for cancer prevention. Interestingly, recent emerging data has revealed the “dark” side of Nrf2. Nrf2 and its downstream genes are overexpressed in many cancer cell lines and human cancer tissues, giving cancer cells an advantage for survival and growth. Furthermore, Nrf2 is upregulated in resistant cancer cells and is thought to be responsible for acquired chemoresistance. Therefore, it may be necessary to inhibit the Nrf2 pathway during chemotherapy. This review is primarily focused on the role of Nrf2 in cancer, with emphasis on the recent findings indicating the cancer promoting function of Nrf2 and its role in acquired chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC2652397  PMID: 18838122
13.  De-Differentiation Confers Multidrug Resistance Via Noncanonical PERK-Nrf2 Signaling 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(9):e1001945.
Upregulation of PERK-Nrf2 signaling is a key mechanism by which de-differentiated cancer cells gain multi-drug resistance.
Malignant carcinomas that recur following therapy are typically de-differentiated and multidrug resistant (MDR). De-differentiated cancer cells acquire MDR by up-regulating reactive oxygen species (ROS)–scavenging enzymes and drug efflux pumps, but how these genes are up-regulated in response to de-differentiation is not known. Here, we examine this question by using global transcriptional profiling to identify ROS-induced genes that are already up-regulated in de-differentiated cells, even in the absence of oxidative damage. Using this approach, we found that the Nrf2 transcription factor, which is the master regulator of cellular responses to oxidative stress, is preactivated in de-differentiated cells. In de-differentiated cells, Nrf2 is not activated by oxidation but rather through a noncanonical mechanism involving its phosphorylation by the ER membrane kinase PERK. In contrast, differentiated cells require oxidative damage to activate Nrf2. Constitutive PERK-Nrf2 signaling protects de-differentiated cells from chemotherapy by reducing ROS levels and increasing drug efflux. These findings are validated in therapy-resistant basal breast cancer cell lines and animal models, where inhibition of the PERK-Nrf2 signaling axis reversed the MDR of de-differentiated cancer cells. Additionally, analysis of patient tumor datasets showed that a PERK pathway signature correlates strongly with chemotherapy resistance, tumor grade, and overall survival. Collectively, these results indicate that de-differentiated cells up-regulate MDR genes via PERK-Nrf2 signaling and suggest that targeting this pathway could sensitize drug-resistant cells to chemotherapy.
Author Summary
The development of multidrug resistance is the primary obstacle to treating cancers. High-grade tumors that are less differentiated typically respond poorly to therapy and carry a much worse prognosis than well-differentiated low-grade tumors. Therapy-resistant cancer cells often overexpress antioxidants or efflux proteins that pump drugs out of the cell, but how the differentiation state of cancer cells influences these resistance mechanisms is not well understood. Here we used genome-scale approaches and found that the PERK kinase and its downstream target, Nrf2—a master transcriptional regulator of the cellular antioxidant response—are key mediators of therapy resistance in poorly differentiated breast cancer cells. We show that Nrf2 is activated when cancer cells de-differentiate and that this activation requires PERK. We further show that blocking PERK-Nrf2 signaling with a small-molecule inhibitor sensitizes drug-resistant cancer cells to chemotherapy. Our results identify a novel role for PERK-Nrf2 signaling in multidrug resistance and suggest that targeting this pathway could improve the responsiveness of otherwise resistant tumors to chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC4159113  PMID: 25203443
14.  HER2 confers drug resistance of human breast cancer cells through activation of NRF2 by direct interaction 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:7201.
Overexpression and/or activation of HER2 confers resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs. NRF2 also gives drug resistance of cancer cells through induction of detoxification and/or drug efflux proteins. Although several upstream effectors of NRF2 overlapped with the downstream molecules of HER2 pathway, no direct link between HER2 and NRF2 has ever been established. Here, we identified that co-expression of a constitutively active HER2 (HER2CA) and NRF2 increased the levels of NRF2 target proteins, HO-1 and MRP5. We also identified HER2CA activated the DNA-binding of NRF2 and the antioxidant response element (ARE)-mediated transcription in an NRF2-dependent manner. In addition, NRF2 and HER2CA cooperatively up-regulated the mRNA expression of various drug-resistant and detoxifying enzymes including GSTA2, GSTP1, CYP3A4, HO-1, MRP1, and MRP5. We also demonstrated that NRF2 binds to HER2 not only in transiently transfected HEK293T cells but also in HER2-amplified breast cancer cells. Functionally, overexpression of HER2CA gave resistance of MCF7 breast cancer cells to either paraquat or doxorubicin. Overexpression of dominant negative NRF2 (DN-NRF2) reduced the HER2CA-induced resistance of MCF7 cells to these agents. Taken together, these results suggest that active HER2 binds and regulates the NRF2-dependent transcriptional activation and induces drug resistance of cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4252900  PMID: 25467193
15.  Regulatory Role of KEAP1 and NRF2 in PPARγ Expression and Chemoresistance in Human Non-small Cell Lung Carcinoma Cells 
Free radical biology & medicine  2012;53(4):758-768.
The nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2 (NRF2) serves as a master regulator in cellular defense against oxidative stress and chemical detoxification. However, persistent activation of NRF2 resulting from mutations of NRF2 and/or downregulation or mutations of its suppressor Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (KEAP1) are associated with tumorigenicity and chemoresistance of non-small-cell lung carcinomas (NSCLCs). Thus, inhibiting NRF2-mediated adaptive antioxidant response is widely considered a promising strategy to prevent tumor growth and reverse chemoresistance in NSCLCs. Unexpectedly, stable knockdown of KEAP1 by lentiviral shRNA sensitized three independent NSCLC cell lines (A549, HTB-178 and HTB-182) to multiple chemotherapeutic agents, including arsenic trioxide (As2O3), etoposide and doxorubicin, despite moderately increased NRF2 levels. In lung adenocarcinoma epithelial A549 cells, silencing of KEAP1 augmented the expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) and genes associated with cell differentiation, including E-Cadherin and Gelsolin. In addition, KEAP1-knockdown A549 cells displayed attenuated expression of proto-oncogene Cyclin D1 and markers for cancer stem cells (CSCs), and reduced non-adherent sphere formation. Moreover, deficiency of KEAP1 led to elevated induction of PPARγ in response to As2O3. Pretreatment of A549 cells with PPARγ agonists activated PPARγ and augmented the cytotoxicity of As2O3. A mathematical model was formulated to advance a hypothesis that differential regulation of PPARγ and detoxification enzymes by KEAP1 and NRF2 may underpin the observed landscape changes in chemo-sensitivity. Collectively, suppression of KEAP1 expression in human NSCLC cells resulted in sensitization to chemotherapeutic agents, which may be attributed to activation of PPARγ and subsequent alterations in cell differentiation and CSC abundance.
PMCID: PMC3418425  PMID: 22684020
16.  The Sensitivity of Cancer Cells to Pheophorbide a-Based Photodynamic Therapy Is Enhanced by NRF2 Silencing 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107158.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has emerged as an effective treatment for various solid tumors. The transcription factor NRF2 is known to protect against oxidative and electrophilic stress; however, its constitutive activity in cancer confers resistance to anti-cancer drugs. In the present study, we investigated NRF2 signaling as a potential molecular determinant of pheophorbide a (Pba)-based PDT by using NRF2-knockdown breast carcinoma MDA-MB-231 cells. Cells with stable NRF2 knockdown showed enhanced cytotoxicity and apoptotic/necrotic cell death following PDT along with increased levels of singlet oxygen and reactive oxygen species (ROS). A confocal microscopic visualization of fluorogenic Pba demonstrated that NRF2-knockdown cells accumulate more Pba than control cells. A subsequent analysis of the expression of membrane drug transporters showed that the basal expression of BCRP is NRF2-dependent. Among measured drug transporters, the basal expression of breast cancer resistance protein (BCRP; ABCG2) was only diminished by NRF2-knockdown. Furthermore, after incubation with the BCRP specific inhibitor, differential cellular Pba accumulation and ROS in two cell lines were abolished. In addition, NRF2-knockdown cells express low level of peroxiredoxin 3 compared to the control, which implies that diminished mitochondrial ROS defense system can be contributing to PDT sensitization. The role of the NRF2-BCRP pathway in Pba-PDT response was further confirmed in colon carcinoma HT29 cells. Specifically, NRF2 knockdown resulted in enhanced cell death and increased singlet oxygen and ROS levels following PDT through the diminished expression of BCRP. Similarly, PDT-induced ROS generation was substantially increased by treatment with NRF2 shRNA in breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells, colon carcinoma HCT116 cells, renal carcinoma A498 cells, and glioblastoma A172 cells. Taken together, these results indicate that the manipulation of NRF2 can enhance Pba-PDT sensitivity in multiple cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4165896  PMID: 25226504
17.  Proteomic analysis of ubiquitin ligase KEAP1 reveals associated proteins that inhibit NRF2 ubiquitination 
Cancer research  2013;73(7):2199-2210.
Somatic mutations in the KEAP1 ubiquitin ligase or its substrate NRF2 (NFE2L2) commonly occur in human cancer, resulting in constitutive NRF2-mediated transcription of cytoprotective genes. However, many tumors display high NRF2 activity in the absence of mutation, supporting the hypothesis that alternative mechanisms of pathway activation exist. Previously, we and others discovered that via a competitive binding mechanism, the proteins WTX (AMER1), PALB2 and SQSTM1 bind KEAP1 to activate NRF2. Proteomic analysis of the KEAP1 protein interaction network revealed a significant enrichment of associated proteins containing an ETGE amino acid motif, which matches the KEAP1 interaction motif found in NRF2. Like WTX, PALB2, and SQSTM1, we found that the dipeptidyl peptidase 3 (DPP3) protein binds KEAP1 via an ‘ETGE’ motif to displace NRF2, thus inhibiting NRF2 ubiquitination and driving NRF2-dependent transcription. Comparing the spectrum of KEAP1 interacting proteins with the genomic profile of 178 squamous cell lung carcinomas characterized by The Cancer Genome Atlas revealed amplification and mRNA over-expression of the DPP3 gene in tumors with high NRF2 activity but lacking NRF2 stabilizing mutations. We further show that tumor-derived mutations in KEAP1 are hypomorphic with respect to NRF2 inhibition and that DPP3 over-expression in the presence of these mutants further promotes NRF2 activation. Collectively, our findings further support the competition model of NRF2 activation and suggest that ‘ETGE’-containing proteins like DPP3 contribute to NRF2 activity in cancer.
PMCID: PMC3618590  PMID: 23382044
18.  4-Methoxychalcone Enhances Cisplatin-Induced Oxidative Stress and Cytotoxicity by Inhibiting the Nrf2/ARE-Mediated Defense Mechanism in A549 Lung Cancer Cells 
Molecules and Cells  2013;36(4):340-346.
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a key transcriptional regulator for the protection of cells against oxidative and xenobiotic stresses. Recent studies have demonstrated that high constitutive expression of Nrf2 is observed in many types of cancer cells showing resistance to anti-cancer drugs, suggesting that the suppression of overexpressed Nrf2 could be an attractive therapeutic strategy to overcome cancer drug resistance. In the present study, we aimed to find small molecule compounds that enhance the sensitivity of tumor cells to cisplatin induced cytotoxicity by suppressing Nrf2-mediated defense mechanism. A549 lung cancer cells were shown to be more resistant to the anti-cancer drug cisplatin than HEK293 cells, with higher Nrf2 signaling activity; constitutively high amounts of Nrf2-downstream target proteins were observed in A549 cells. Among the three chalcone derivatives 4-methoxy-chalcone (4-MC), hesperidin methylchalcone, and neohesperidin dihydrochalcone, 4-MC was found to suppress transcriptional activity of Nrf2 in A549 cells but to activate it in HEK293 cells. 4-MC was also shown to down-regulate expression of Nrf2 and the downstream phase II detoxifying enzyme NQO1 in A549 cells. The PI3K/Akt pathway was found to be involved in the 4-MC-induced inhibition of Nrf2/ARE activity in A549 cells. This inhibition of Nrf2 signaling results in the accelerated generation of reactive oxygen species and exacerbation of cytotoxicity in cisplatin-treated A549 cells. Taken together, these results suggest that the small molecule compound 4-MC could be used to enhance the sensitivity of tumor cells to the therapeutic effect of cisplatin through the regulation of Nrf2/ARE signaling.
PMCID: PMC3887984  PMID: 24046186
4-methoxychalcone; A549; chemosensitivity; cisplatin; Nrf2
19.  Aberrant Regulation of the MRP3 Gene in Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma 
Multidrug-resistance Protein-3 (MRP3), a membrane bound transporter, facilitates efflux of toxic compounds, including certain chemotherapies, out of cells. Aberrant MRP3 expression has been linked to drug resistance in NSCLC. We sought to determine if tumor MRP3 expression patterns correlate with the mutational status of upstream regulators, including nuclear factor erythroid-2–related factor 2 (Nrf2) and its functional repressor Keap1 in NSCLC cell lines and patient samples.
To identify putative Nrf2 binding sites in the MRP3 promoter and to evaluate Keap1, Nrf2, and p53 mutations status in 4 cell lines and 33 NSCLC surgically resected tumor specimens with regard to their impact on MRP3 levels.
ChIP analysis of the MRP3 promoter revealed an almost threefold increase in Nrf2 binding to the third putative Nrf2 binding sequence distal to the start site, demonstrating direct regulation of MRP3 by Nrf2. In NSCLC cell lines elevated Nrf2 protein was observed in cell lines with increased MRP3 RNA expression. In patient tumor specimens, the presence of mutations in Keap1/Nrf2 correlated with MRP3 RNA levels (p<0.05). p53 mutations were observed in 33% of cases, and all Keap1 mutant-positive tumors possessed a p53 mutation (n=5; p=0.0019).
We demonstrate direct involvement between the transcription factor Nrf2 and the MRP3 promoter, which leads to the upregulation of the MRP3 gene. Additionally, we found a statistically significant correlation between the presence of Keap1/Nrf2 mutations and increased MRP3 mRNA levels in our NSCLC patient samples.
PMCID: PMC3241903  PMID: 22089114
Keap1; Nrf2; p53; MRP3; NSCLC
20.  Ectodermal-Neural Cortex 1 Down-Regulates Nrf2 at the Translational Level 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(5):e5492.
The transcription factor Nrf2 is the master regulator of a cellular defense mechanism against environmental insults. The Nrf2-mediated antioxidant response is accomplished by the transcription of a battery of genes that encode phase II detoxifying enzymes, xenobiotic transporters, and antioxidants. Coordinated expression of these genes is critical in protecting cells from toxic and carcinogenic insults and in maintaining cellular redox homeostasis. Activation of the Nrf2 pathway is primarily controlled by Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), which is a molecular switch that turns on or off the Nrf2 signaling pathway according to intracellular redox conditions. Here we report our finding of a novel Nrf2 suppressor ectodermal-neural cortex 1 (ENC1), which is a BTB-Kelch protein and belongs to the same family as Keap1. Transient expression of ENC1 reduced steady-state levels of Nrf2 and its downstream gene expression. Although ENC1 interacted with Keap1 indirectly, the ENC1-mediated down-regulation of Nrf2 was independent of Keap1. The negative effect of ENC1 on Nrf2 was not due to a change in the stability of Nrf2 because neither proteasomal nor lysosomal inhibitors had any effects. Overexpression of ENC1 did not result in a change in the level of Nrf2 mRNA, rather, it caused a decrease in the rate of Nrf2 protein synthesis. These results demonstrate that ENC1 functions as a negative regulator of Nrf2 through suppressing Nrf2 protein translation, which adds another level of complexity in controlling the Nrf2 signaling pathway.
PMCID: PMC2675063  PMID: 19424503
21.  Nrf2 is a potential prognostic marker and promotes proliferation and invasion in human hepatocellular carcinoma 
BMC Cancer  2015;15:531.
Nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2 or NFE2L2) is abundantly expressed in cancer cells and relates to proliferation, invasion, and chemoresistance. Our early observations also found that expression of Nrf2 was up-regulated in kinds of cancer including human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells. But there are limited reports about the expression, significance, function of Nrf2 in HCC.
First, Nrf2 expression was analyzed in HCC cell lines and tumor samples. Then, the relationship of Nrf2 with clinicopathological factors and survival were analyzed. Further, the effect of Nrf2 on cell proliferation, apoptosis, and metastasis was examined in vitro by modulating expression of Nrf2 through specific shRNA or expression plasmid. Last, the potential mechanisms were also investigated.
Nrf2 was up-regulated in HCC, and expression of Nrf2 was correlated with tumor differentiation, metastasis, and tumor size. Univariate and multivariate analyses indicated that high Nrf2 expression might be a poor prognostic factor. Further studies demonstrated that inhibition of Nrf2 expression inhibited proliferation by inducing apoptosis and repressed invasion, and up-regulation of Nrf2 expression resulted in opposite phenotypes. Moreover, there are positive correlation between Nrf2 expression and that of Bcl-xL and MMP-9.
Nrf2 is a potential prognostic marker and promotes proliferation and invasion in human hepatocellular carcinoma partly through regulating expression of Bcl-xL and MMP-9.
PMCID: PMC4507320  PMID: 26194347
Nuclear factor E2-related factor 2; Human hepatocellular carcinoma; Prognostic marker; Proliferation; Invasion
22.  NRF2 Mutation Confers Malignant Potential and Resistance to Chemoradiation Therapy in Advanced Esophageal Squamous Cancer1 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2011;13(9):864-873.
Esophageal squamous cancer (ESC) is one of the most aggressive tumors of the gastrointestinal tract. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy (CRT) has improved the clinical outcome, but the molecular background determining the effectiveness of therapy remains unknown. NRF2 is a master transcriptional regulator of stress adaptation, and gain of-function mutation of NRF2 in cancer confers resistance to stressors including anticancer therapy. Direct resequencing analysis revealed that Nrf2 gain-of-function mutation occurred recurrently (18/82, 22%) in advanced ESC tumors and ESC cell lines (3/10). The presence of Nrf2 mutation was associated with tumor recurrence and poor prognosis. Short hairpin RNA-mediated down-regulation of NRF2 in ESC cells that harbor only mutated Nrf2 allele revealed that themutant NRF2 conferred increased cell proliferation, attachment-independent survival, and resistance to 5-fluorouracil and γ-irradiation. Based on the Nrf2 mutation status, gene expression signatures associated with NRF2 mutation were extracted from ESC cell lines, and their potential utility for monitoring and prognosis was examined in a cohort of 33 pre-CRT cases of ESC. The molecular signatures of NRF2 mutation were significantly predictive and prognostic for CRT response. In conclusion, recurrent NRF2 mutation confers malignant potential and resistance to therapy in advanced ESC, resulting in a poorer outcome. Molecular signatures of NRF2 mutation can be applied as predictive markers of response to CRT, and efficient inhibition of aberrant NRF2 activation could be a promising approach in combination with CRT.
PMCID: PMC3182278  PMID: 21969819
23.  p97-dependent retrotranslocation and proteolytic processing govern formation of active Nrf1 upon proteasome inhibition 
eLife  2014;3:e01856.
Proteasome inhibition elicits an evolutionarily conserved response wherein proteasome subunit mRNAs are upregulated, resulting in recovery (i.e., ‘bounce-back’) of proteasome activity. We previously demonstrated that the transcription factor Nrf1/NFE2L1 mediates this homeostatic response in mammalian cells. We show here that Nrf1 is initially translocated into the lumen of the ER, but is rapidly and efficiently retrotranslocated to the cytosolic side of the membrane in a manner that depends on p97/VCP. Normally, retrotranslocated Nrf1 is degraded promptly by the proteasome and active species do not accumulate. However, in cells with compromised proteasomes, retrotranslocated Nrf1 escapes degradation and is cleaved N-terminal to Leu-104 to yield a fragment that is no longer tethered to the ER membrane. Importantly, this cleavage event is essential for Nrf1-dependent activation of proteasome gene expression upon proteasome inhibition. Our data uncover an unexpected role for p97 in activation of a transcription factor by relocalizing it from the ER lumen to the cytosol.
eLife digest
Cells exposed to high temperatures, infections and other forms of stress often produce oxygen ions and peroxide molecules that can cause damage to proteins and DNA. Cells therefore rely on molecular machines called proteasomes to eliminate damaged proteins, before they cause too much harm. Two related transcription factors—proteins that interact with DNA to ‘switch on’ the expression of genes—are involved in a cell’s responses to stress, but in different ways. Nrf2 switches on genes that limit the damage caused by oxygen ions and peroxide molecules, while Nrf1 switches on the genes that encode the components of the proteasome. As such, Nrf1 helps to restart proteasome activity if it has been shut off—a phenomenon known as ‘bounce-back’.
Within a cell, Nrf1 is known to start off embedded within the membranes of a structure called the endoplasmic reticulum. However, it is not clear how activated Nrf1 leaves this membrane and enters the nucleus to interact with the cell’s DNA. Now, Radhakrishnan et al. show that when Nrf1 is produced, most of its length is found inside the endoplasmic reticulum, with only a small piece being anchored in the surrounding membrane. This is unlike previously described transcription factors that associate with the endoplasmic reticulum, which are stuck to the outside of this structure.
Radhakrishnan et al. also discovered that the activation of Nrf1 depends on an enzyme called p97 or VCP. This enzyme helps to flip Nrf1 from the inside of the endoplasmic reticulum to its outside surface. In most cells, the proteasome then breaks down this part of Nrf1. However, if the proteasome is inhibited, an unknown enzyme cuts Nrf1 free from the endoplasmic reticulum, allowing it to migrate to the nucleus and promote the production of more proteasome components to counteract the inhibition.
Interestingly, drugs that inhibit the proteasome are used to combat cancer because the build-up of damaged proteins is toxic to the cancer cells. By showing that p97 promotes the ‘bounce-back’ of the proteasome, the work of Radhakrishnan et al. suggests that combining existing proteasome inhibitors with drugs that inhibit p97 could eventually lead to new, more effective, therapies for cancer or other diseases.
PMCID: PMC3896944  PMID: 24448410
p97; Nrf1; proteasome; human; mouse
24.  Expression of ABCG2 (BCRP), a Marker of Stem Cells, is Regulated by Nrf2 in Cancer Cells That Confers Side Population and Chemoresistance Phenotype 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2010;9(8):2365-2376.
ATP-binding cassette, sub-family G, member 2 (ABCG2) is expressed in both normal and cancer cells, and plays a crucial role in the side population (SP) formation and efflux of xenobiotics and drugs. Nrf2, a redox sensing transcription factor, upon constitutive activation in non-small-cell lung cancer cells up-regulates a wide spectrum of genes involved in redox balance, glutathione metabolism, and drug detoxification that contribute to chemoresistance and tumorigenecity. This study examined the mechanism underlying Nrf2-dependent expression of ABCG2 and its role in multidrug resistance phenotype. In silico analysis of the 5’-promoter flanking region of ABCG2 identified an antioxidant response element at -431 bp to -420 bp. A detailed promoter analysis using luciferase reporter assays demonstrated that antioxidant response element (ARE) at -431 bp to -420 bp is critical for the Nrf2-mediated expression in lung cancer cells. Electrophoresis mobility shift assays (EMSA) and chromatin-immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays revealed that Nrf2 interacts with ABCG2 ARE element at -431 bp to -420 bp in vitro and in vivo. Disruption of Nrf2 expression in lung cancer and prostate cancer cells, by short hairpin RNA, attenuated the expression of ABCG2 transcript and protein and dramatically reduced the SP fraction in Nrf2-depleted cancer cells. Moreover, depleted levels of ABCG2 in these Nrf2-knockdown cells sensitized them to mitoxantrone and topotecan, two chemotherapy drugs detoxified mainly by ABCG2. As expected, overexpression of Nrf2 cDNA in lung epithelial cells led to an increase in ABCG2 expression and a 2-fold higher SP fraction. Thus, Nrf2-mediated regulation of ABCG2 expression maintains SP fraction and confers chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC2955865  PMID: 20682644
Nrf2; ABCG2; lung cancer; cancer stem cells; chemo-resistance; RNAi
25.  Cross-Regulations among NRFs and KEAP1 and Effects of their Silencing on Arsenic-Induced Antioxidant Response and Cytotoxicity in Human Keratinocytes 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2012;120(4):583-589.
Background: Nuclear factor E2-related factors (NRFs), including NRF2 and NRF1, play critical roles in mediating the cellular adaptive response to oxidative stress. Human exposure to inorganic arsenic, a potent oxidative stressor, causes various dermal disorders, including hyperkeratosis and skin cancer.
Objective: We investigated the cross-regulations among NRF2, NRF1, and KEAP1, a cullin-3–adapter protein that allows NRF2 to be ubiquinated and degraded by the proteasome complex, in arsenic-induced antioxidant responses.
Results: In human keratinocyte HaCaT cells, selective knockdown (KD) of NRF2 by lentiviral short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) significantly reduced the expression of many antioxidant enzymes and sensitized the cells to acute cytotoxicity of inorganic arsenite (iAs3+). In contrast, silencing KEAP1 led to a dramatic resistance to iAs3+-induced apoptosis. Pretreatment of HaCaT cells with NRF2 activators, such as tert-butylhydroquinone, protects the cells against acute iAs3+ toxicity in an NRF2-dependent fashion. Consistent with the negative regulatory role of KEAP1 in NRF2 activation, KEAP1-KD cells exhibited enhanced transcriptional activity of NRF2 under nonstressed conditions. However, deficiency in KEAP1 did not facilitate induction of NRF2-target genes by iAs3+. In addition, NRF2 silencing reduced the expression of KEAP1 at transcription and protein levels but increased the protein expression of NRF1 under the iAs3+-exposed condition. In contrast, silencing KEAP1 augmented protein accumulation of NRF2 under basal and iAs3+-exposed conditions, whereas the iAs3+-induced protein accumulation of NRF1 was attenuated in KEAP1-KD cells.
Conclusions: Our studies suggest that NRF2, KEAP1, and NRF1 are coordinately involved in the regulation of the cellular adaptive response to iAs3+-induced oxidative stress.
PMCID: PMC3339469  PMID: 22476201
antioxidant response; arsenic; cytotoxicity; KEAP1; keratinocyte; NRF1; NRF2

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