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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.  Oxidative Stress, Mammospheres and Nrf2 – New Implication for Breast Cancer Therapy? 
Molecular carcinogenesis  2014;54(11):1494-1502.
Mammosphere culture of breast cancer cell lines is an important approach used for enrichment of cancer stem cells (CSCs), which exhibit high tumorigenicity and chemoresistance features. Evidence shows that CSCs maintain lower ROS levels due to elevated expression of ROS-scavenging molecules and antioxidative enzymes, which favors the survival of the SLCs and their chemoresistance. The transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) has emerged as the master regulator of cellular redox homeostasis, by up-regulating antioxidant response element (ARE)-bearing genes products. Although Nrf2 has long-term been regarded as a beneficial defense mechanism, accumulating studies have revealed the “dark side” of Nrf2. High constitutive levels of Nrf2 was observed in many types of tumors and cancer cell lines promoting their resistance to chemotherapeutics. In this study, we report a high expression of Nrf2 and its target genes in mammospheres, compared to corresponding adherent cells. In MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 mammmosphere cells, the Nrf2-mediated cellular protective response is significantly elevated, which is associated with increased resistance to taxol and anchorage-independent growth. Brusatol, an inhibitor of the Nrf2 pathway, suppressed the protein level of Nrf2 and its target genes, enhanced intracellular ROS and sensitized mammospheres to taxol and reduced the anchorage-independent growth. These results suggest that mammospheres rely on abnormal up-regulation of Nrf2 to maintain low intracellular ROS levels. Nrf2 inhibitors, such as brusatol, have the potential to be developed into novel adjuvant chemotherapeutic drug combinations, in order to combat refractory tumor initiating CSCs.
PMCID: PMC4697962  PMID: 25154499
Nrf2; cancer stem cell; chemoresistance
7.  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
8.  Molecular mechanisms of Nrf2 regulation and how these influence chemical modulation for disease intervention 
Biochemical Society Transactions  2015;43(4):680-686.
Nrf2 (nuclear factor erytheroid-derived-2-like 2) transcriptional programmes are activated by a variety of cellular stress conditions to maintain cellular homoeostasis. Under non-stress conditions, Nrf2 is under tight regulation by the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS). Detailed mechanistic investigations have shown the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1)–cullin3 (Cul3)–ring-box1 (Rbx1) E3-ligase to be the primary Nrf2 regulatory system. Recently, both beta-transducin repeat-containing E3 ubiquitin protein ligase (β-TrCP) and E3 ubiquitin-protein ligase synoviolin (Hrd1) have been identified as novel E3 ubiquitin ligases that negatively regulate Nrf2 through Keap1-independent mechanisms. In addition to UPS-mediated regulation of Nrf2, investigations have revealed a cross-talk between Nrf2 and the autophagic pathway resulting in activation of Nrf2 in a non-canonical manner. In addition to regulation at the protein level, Nrf2 was recently shown to be regulated at the transcriptional level by oncogenic K-rat sarcoma (Ras). A consequence of these differential regulatory mechanisms is the dual role of Nrf2 in cancer: the canonical, protective role and the non-canonical ‘dark-side’ of Nrf2. Based on the protective role of Nrf2, a vast effort has been dedicated towards identifying novel chemical inducers of Nrf2 for the purpose of chemoprevention. On the other hand, upon malignant transformation, some cancer cells have a constitutively high level of Nrf2 offering a growth advantage, as well as rendering cancer cells resistant to chemotherapeutics. This discovery has led to a new paradigm in cancer treatment; the initially counterintuitive use of Nrf2 inhibitors as adjuvants in chemotherapy. Herein, we will discuss the mechanisms of Nrf2 regulation and how this detailed molecular understanding can be leveraged to develop Nrf2 modulators to prevent diseases, mitigate disease progression or overcome chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC4613518  PMID: 26551712
chemoprevention/chemoresistance; Hrd1; Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1); nuclear factor erytheroid-derived-2-like 2 (Nrf2); reactive oxygen species (ROS); ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS)
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  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
14.  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
15.  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
16.  Activated Nrf2 Interacts with Kaposi's Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus Latency Protein LANA-1 and Host Protein KAP1 To Mediate Global Lytic Gene Repression 
Journal of Virology  2015;89(15):7874-7892.
Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is etiologically associated with Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), and multicentric Castleman's disease. We have previously shown that KSHV utilizes the host transcription factor Nrf2 to aid in infection of endothelial cells and oncogenesis. Here, we investigate the role of Nrf2 in PEL and PEL-derived cell lines and show that KSHV latency induces Nrf2 protein levels and transcriptional activity through the COX-2/PGE2/EP4/PKCζ axis. Next-generation sequencing of KSHV transcripts in the PEL-derived BCBL-1 cell line revealed that knockdown of this activated Nrf2 results in global elevation of lytic genes. Nrf2 inhibition by the chemical brusatol also induces lytic gene expression. Both Nrf2 knockdown and brusatol-mediated inhibition induced KSHV lytic reactivation in BCBL-1 cells. In a series of follow-up experiments, we characterized the mechanism of Nrf2-mediated regulation of KSHV lytic repression during latency. Biochemical assays showed that Nrf2 interacted with KSHV latency-associated nuclear antigen 1 (LANA-1) and the host transcriptional repressor KAP1, which together have been shown to repress lytic gene expression. Promoter studies showed that although Nrf2 alone induces the open reading frame 50 (ORF50) promoter, its association with LANA-1 and KAP1 abrogates this effect. Interestingly, LANA-1 is crucial for efficient KAP1/Nrf2 association, while Nrf2 is essential for LANA-1 and KAP1 recruitment to the ORF50 promoter and its repression. Overall, these results suggest that activated Nrf2, LANA-1, and KAP1 assemble on the ORF50 promoter in a temporal fashion. Initially, Nrf2 binds to and activates the ORF50 promoter during early de novo infection, an effect that is exploited during latency by LANA-1-mediated recruitment of the host transcriptional repressor KAP1 on Nrf2. Cell death assays further showed that Nrf2 and KAP1 knockdown induce significant cell death in PEL cell lines. Our studies suggest that Nrf2 modulation through available oral agents is a promising therapeutic approach in the treatment of KSHV-associated malignancies.
IMPORTANCE KS and PEL are aggressive KSHV-associated malignancies with moderately effective, highly toxic chemotherapies. Other than ganciclovir and alpha interferon (IFN-α) prophylaxis, no KSHV-associated chemotherapy targets the underlying infection, a major oncogenic force. Hence, drugs that selectively target KSHV infection are necessary to eradicate the malignancy while sparing healthy cells. We recently showed that KSHV infection of endothelial cells activates the transcription factor Nrf2 to promote an environment conducive to infection and oncogenesis. Nrf2 is modulated through several well-tolerated oral agents and may be an important target in KSHV biology. Here, we investigate the role of Nrf2 in PEL and demonstrate that Nrf2 plays an important role in KSHV gene expression, lytic reactivation, and cell survival by interacting with the host transcriptional repressor KAP1 and the viral latency-associated protein LANA-1 to mediate global lytic gene repression and thus cell survival. Hence, targeting Nrf2 with available therapies is a viable approach in the treatment of KSHV malignancies.
PMCID: PMC4505678  PMID: 25995248
17.  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
18.  NRF2-driven miR-125B1 and miR-29B1 transcriptional regulation controls a novel anti-apoptotic miRNA regulatory network for AML survival 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2014;22(4):654-664.
Transcription factor NRF2 is an important regulator of oxidative stress. It is involved in cancer progression, and has abnormal constitutive expression in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Posttranscriptional regulation by microRNAs (miRNAs) can affect the malignant phenotype of AML cells. In this study, we identified and characterised NRF2-regulated miRNAs in AML. An miRNA array identified miRNA expression level changes in response to NRF2 knockdown in AML cells. Further analysis of miRNAs concomitantly regulated by knockdown of the NRF2 inhibitor KEAP1 revealed the major candidate NRF2-mediated miRNAs in AML. We identified miR-125B to be upregulated and miR-29B to be downregulated by NRF2 in AML. Subsequent bioinformatic analysis identified putative NRF2 binding sites upstream of the miR-125B1 coding region and downstream of the mir-29B1 coding region. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses showed that NRF2 binds to these antioxidant response elements (AREs) located in the 5′ untranslated regions of miR-125B and miR-29B. Finally, primary AML samples transfected with anti-miR-125B antagomiR or miR-29B mimic showed increased cell death responsiveness either alone or co-treated with standard AML chemotherapy. In summary, we find that NRF2 regulation of miR-125B and miR-29B acts to promote leukaemic cell survival, and their manipulation enhances AML responsiveness towards cytotoxic chemotherapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4356334  PMID: 25323587
19.  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
20.  Nrf2 regulates ROS production by mitochondria and NADPH oxidase 
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta  2015;1850(4):794-801.
Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2) factor 2 (Nrf2) is a crucial transcription factor mediating protection against oxidants. Nrf2 is negatively regulated by cytoplasmic Kelch-like ECH associated protein 1 (Keap1) thereby providing inducible antioxidant defence. Antioxidant properties of Nrf2 are thought to be mainly exerted by stimulating transcription of antioxidant proteins, whereas its effects on ROS production within the cell are uncertain.
Live cell imaging and qPCR in brain hippocampal glio-neuronal cultures and explants slice cultures with graded expression of Nrf2, i.e. Nrf2-knockout (Nrf2-KO), wild-type (WT), and Keap1-knockdown (Keap1-KD).
We here show that ROS production in Nrf2-KO cells and tissues is increased compared to their WT counterparts. Mitochondrial ROS production is regulated by the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway by controlling mitochondrial bioenergetics. Surprisingly, Keap1-KD cells and tissues also showed higher rates of ROS production when compared to WT, although with a smaller magnitude. Analysis of the mRNA expression levels of the two NOX isoforms implicated in brain pathology showed, that NOX2 is dramatically upregulated under conditions of Nrf2 deficiency, whereas NOX4 is upregulated when Nrf2 is constitutively activated (Keap1-KD) to a degree which paralleled the increases in ROS production.
These observations suggest that the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway regulates both mitochondrial and cytosolic ROS production through NADPH oxidase.
General significance
Findings supports a key role of the Keap1–Nrf2 pathway in redox homeostasis within the cell.
•We studied ROS production/NADPH oxidase expression in Nrf2-KO and Keap1-KD cells.•ROS production is increased in Nrf2-KO and Keap1-KD neurons when compared to WT.•NOX2/NOX4 mRNA in Nrf2-KO and Keap1-KD paralleled these changes.
PMCID: PMC4471129  PMID: 25484314
ROS; Nrf2; Keap1; NADPH oxidase; NOX
21.  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
22.  Mechanisms of activation of the transcription factor Nrf2 by redox stressors, nutrient cues, and energy status and the pathways through which it attenuates degenerative disease 
Free radical biology & medicine  2015;88(0 0):108-146.
Nuclear factor-erythroid 2 p45-related factor 2 (Nrf2) regulates the basal and stress-inducible expression of a battery of genes encoding key components of the glutathione-based and thioredoxin-based anti-oxidant systems, as well as aldo-keto reductase, glutathione S-transferase, and NAD(P)H:quinone oxi-doreductase-1 drug-metabolizing isoenzymes along with multidrug-resistance-associated efflux pumps. It therefore plays a pivotal role in both intrinsic resistance and cellular adaptation to reactive oxygen species (ROS) and xenobiotics. Activation of Nrf2 can, however, serve as a double-edged sword because some of the genes it induces may contribute to chemical carcinogenesis by promoting futile redox cycling of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites or confer resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs by increasing the expression of efflux pumps, suggesting its cytoprotective effects will vary in a context-specific fashion. In addition to cytoprotection, Nrf2 also controls genes involved in intermediary metabolism, positively regulating those involved in NADPH generation, purine biosynthesis, and the β-oxidation of fatty acids, while suppressing those involved in lipogenesis and gluconeogenesis. Nrf2 is subject to regulation at multiple levels. Its ability to orchestrate adaptation to oxidants and electrophiles is due principally to stress-stimulated modification of thiols within one of its repressors, the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein 1 (Keap1), which is present in the cullin-3 RING ubiquitin ligase (CRL) complex CRLKeap1. Thus modification of Cys residues in Keap1 blocks CRLKeap1 activity, allowing newly translated Nrf2 to accumulate rapidly and induce its target genes. The ability of Keap1 to repress Nrf2 can be attenuated by p62/sequestosome-1 in a mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1)-depen-dent manner, thereby allowing refeeding after fasting to increase Nrf2-target gene expression. In parallel with repression by Keap1, Nrf2 is also repressed by β-transducin repeat-containing protein (β-TrCP), present in the Skp1–cullin-1–F-box protein (SCF) ubiquitin ligase complex SCFβ-TrCP. The ability of SCFβ-TrCP to suppress Nrf2 activity is itself enhanced by prior phosphorylation of the transcription factor by glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) through formation of a DSGIS-containing phosphodegron. However, formation of the phosphodegron in Nrf2 by GSK-3 is inhibited by stimuli that activate protein kinase B (PKB)/Akt. In particular, PKB/Akt activity can be increased by phosphoinositide 3-kinase and mTORC2, thereby providing an explanation of why antioxidant-responsive element-driven genes are induced by growth factors and nutrients. Thus Nrf2 activity is tightly controlled via CRLKeap1 and SCFβ-TrCP by oxidative stress and energy-based signals, allowing it to mediate adaptive responses that restore redox homeostasis and modulate intermediary metabolism. Based on the fact that Nrf2 influences multiple biochemical pathways in both positive and negative ways, it is likely its dose–response curve, in terms of susceptibility to certain degenerative disease, is U-shaped. Specifically, too little Nrf2 activity will lead to loss of cytoprotection, diminished antioxidant capacity, and lowered β-oxidation of fatty acids, while conversely also exhibiting heightened sensitivity to ROS-based signaling that involves receptor tyrosine kinases and apoptosis signal-regulating kinase-1. By contrast, too much Nrf2 activity disturbs the homeostatic balance in favor of reduction, and so may have deleterious consequences including overproduction of reduced glutathione and NADPH, the blunting of ROS-based signal transduction, epithelial cell hyperplasia, and failure of certain cell types to differentiate correctly. We discuss the basis of a putative U-shaped Nrf2 dose–response curve in terms of potentially competing processes relevant to different stages of tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC4659505  PMID: 26122708
Nrf2; Keap1; β-TrCP; GSK-3; Reactive oxygen species; Inflammation; Nutrient supply; Lipid metabolism; Glutathione; Thioredoxin; Free radicals; aldo-keto reductase (AKR)
23.  Mutant p53 confers chemoresistance in non-small cell lung cancer by upregulating Nrf2 
Oncotarget  2015;6(39):41692-41705.
Nrf2 is a key transcription factor for genes coding for antioxidants, detoxification enzymes, and multiple drug resistance and it also confers resistance to anticancer drugs. Here, we hypothesized that mutant p53 could upregulate Nrf2 expression at the transcriptional level, thereby conferring cisplatin resistance in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Luciferase reporter assays and real-time PCR analysis indicated that the Nrf2 promoter activity and its mRNA levels were markedly suppressed by wild-type p53, but not by mutant p53. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) further confirmed that wild-type p53 binds at the p53 putative binding site to block Sp1 binding to the Nrf2 promoter and consequently to suppress the Nrf2 promoter activity. The MTT assay indicated that an increase in Nrf2 expression by mutant p53 is responsible for cisplatin resistance. Among the Nrf2 downstream genes, Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL contribute more strongly to Nrf2-mediated cisplatin resistance when compared with heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1). Cox regression analysis showed that patients with high-Nrf2, high-Bcl-2, high-Bcl-xL mRNA tumors were more commonly occurred unfavorable response to cisplatin-based chemotherapy than their counterparts. The prognostic significance of Nrf2 mRNA levels on OS and RFS was also observed in patients who have received cisplatin-based chemotherapy, particularly in p53-mutant patients. Collectively, mutant p53 may confer cisplatin resistance via upregulation of Nrf2 expression, and Nrf2 mRNA level may predict chemotherapeutic response and outcomes in NSCLC.
PMCID: PMC4747182  PMID: 26497680
Nrf2; p53; cisplatin sensitivity; lung cancer
24.  Cancer Cell Growth Is Differentially Affected by Constitutive Activation of NRF2 by KEAP1 Deletion and Pharmacological Activation of NRF2 by the Synthetic Triterpenoid, RTA 405 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0135257.
Synthetic triterpenoids are antioxidant inflammation modulators (AIMs) that exhibit broad anticancer activity. AIMs bind to KEAP1 and inhibit its ability to promote NRF2 degradation. As a result, NRF2 increases transcription of genes that restore redox balance and reduce inflammation. AIMs inhibit tumor growth and metastasis by increasing NRF2 activity in the tumor microenvironment and by modulating the activity of oncogenic signaling pathways, including NF-κB, in tumor cells. Accumulating evidence suggests that KEAP1 loss or mutation—which results in high levels of sustained NRF2 activity—may promote cancer growth and increase chemoresistance. Loss of KEAP1 also increases the levels of other oncogenic proteins, including IKKβ and BCL2. The apparent survival advantage provided to some tumor cells by loss of functional KEAP1 raises the question of whether pharmacological inhibition of KEAP1 could promote tumor growth. To address this issue, we characterized the basal levels of KEAP1 and NRF2 in a panel of human tumor cell lines and profiled the activity of an AIM, RTA 405. We found that in tumor cell lines with low or mutant KEAP1, and in Keap1-/- murine embryonic fibroblasts, multiple KEAP1 targets including NRF2, IKKβ, and BCL2 were elevated. Keap1-/- murine embryonic fibroblasts also had higher rates of proliferation and colony formation than their wild-type counterparts. In cells with functional KEAP1, RTA 405 increased NRF2 levels, but not IKKβ or BCL2 levels, and did not increase cell proliferation or survival. Moreover, RTA 405 inhibited growth at similar concentrations in cells with different basal NRF2 activity levels and in cells with wild-type or mutant KRAS. Finally, pre-treatment with RTA 405 did not protect tumor cells from doxorubicin- or cisplatin-mediated growth inhibition. Collectively, these data demonstrate that pharmacological activation of NRF2 by AIMs is distinct from genetic activation and does not provide a growth or survival advantage to tumor cells.
PMCID: PMC4547720  PMID: 26301506
25.  Combination of siRNA-directed gene silencing with epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) reverses drug resistance in human breast cancer cells 
Journal of Chemical Biology  2015;9(1):41-52.
Elevated expression of NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), a nuclear transcription factor, is a frequent genetic abnormality seen in this malignancy and is an important contributor to chemoresistance in cancer therapy. In the present study, we investigated if Nrf2 was associated with drug resistance in tamoxifen-resistant MCF-7 (MCF-7/TAM) cells, and whether EGCG, major flavonoid isolated from green tea, could reverse drug resistance in MCF-7/TAM cells. Our results showed that the endogenous expression of Nrf2 as well as its target proteins heme oxygenase-1, NADP (H):quinone oxidoreductase in MCF-7/TAM cells was higher than that in MCF-7 cells. Epicatechin gallate (EGCG) significantly sensitizes MCF-7/TAM cells to tamoxifen and dramatically reduced Nrf2 expression at both the messenger RNA and protein, leading to a reduction of Nrf2-downstream genes. In addition, using siRNA technique, we found that the intracellular Nrf2 protein level was significantly decreased in MCF-7/TAM cells and tamoxifen resistance was partially reversed by Nrf2 siRNA. Combination of siRNA-directed gene silencing with EGCG downregulated the Nrf2-dependent response and partly reversed tamoxifen resistance in MCF-7/TAM cells in a synergic manner. These results suggested that combining the chemotherapeutic effect of EGCG with siRNA-mediated Nrf2 knock-down results in the feasibility of using Nrf2 inhibitors to increase efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs.
PMCID: PMC4733072  PMID: 26855680
Apoptosis; Epigallocatechin-3-gallate; MCF-7 breast cancer; Nrf2 siRNA; Tamoxifen

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