NF-kappaB: tumor promoter or suppressor?

Trends Cell Biol. 2004 Feb;14(2):64-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tcb.2003.12.004.


A role for the NF-kappaB family of transcription factors as tumor promoters is firmly established. However, other data suggest that NF-kappaB can also inhibit tumor growth. Moreover, NF-kappaB activity is modulated by tumor suppressors, such as p53 and ARF, whereby NF-kappaB subunits repress, rather than activate, the expression of tumor-promoting genes. This suggests a dual function of NF-kappaB during tumor progression - in the early stages, NF-kappaB inhibits tumor growth but, as further mutations lead to a loss of tumor suppressor expression, the oncogenic functions of NF-kappaB become unleashed, allowing it to actively contribute to tumorigenesis. Here, I discuss this hypothesis, its implications for NF-kappaB function, and how this might influence the use of NF-kappaB-based anticancer therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / metabolism*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Humans
  • NF-kappa B / genetics*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Oncogenes / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p14ARF / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p14ARF / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism


  • Carcinogens
  • Cdkn2a protein, mouse
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • NF-kappa B
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p14ARF
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins